Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Scintilla Project - Day 11

The last prompt for Scintilla, alas. After thinking long and hard about these choices, I'm writing about #1, sort of.

1. Talk about a time when you intervened. What prompted you? Did you regret it?

2. Tell a story that you haven't told yet. Give it a different ending than the one that really happened. Don't tell us where you start changing things. Just go.


Readers of this blog already know some of my intervention stories: one daughter's rescue from an abusive domestic situation, my cousin's suicidal note, another daughter's return to California.  I don't regret any of my actions in these instances, and the overarching prompt in these stories is love of family.

When I was in high school and college, I did a lot of listening: I was sort of the local "Ann Landers," and I certainly gave lots of advice to my friends, and did a lot of commiserating. My caring and that of my welcoming family back then helped one young woman to get through a terrible time in her life -- she had attempted suicide at least once, and was deeply depressed over the death of her mother. She was always a welcome guest in our house and at our family table, and many years later she told us how much that had meant to her and helped her.

But even then I knew that getting involved and helping others to solve their problems was a way for me not to have to deal with my own issues. It was much easier to be a loving friend and help figure out someone else's life than to look at my own self-esteem or other issues.

Years later I remember leaping in to help a new friend who had just joined a group of which I was a member. She called one day to ask for help -- she'd managed to cut herself rather badly and was there alone with her children. I rushed to her home and helped stop the bleeding, but she clearly was not capable of taking care of her children or herself. Her husband came home -- she had NOT called him -- and was more than a little (and very rightfully so) distressed that I was there. He assured me he could deal with the situation, and I left. I don't remember if I ever saw her again after that, but I started working more on my own issues.

There can be a fine line between being a loving, caring friend or relative and intervening in someone's life. I've crossed that boundary more than once, and probably would do so again, but never again without deliberate thought and choice. Sometimes just listening to and telling the troubled person that you care about them is enough to help them to turn a corner. Sometimes you can't do anything to help no matter what the situation. Sometimes your help will only delay a consequence. And sometimes you end up hurting yourself instead of being able to help  the person you tried to save.

While I certainly won't say that I'll never again intervene in someone's life, I have turned my attention and focus largely towards my own life, because this life is the only one that I know I can change.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Scintilla Project - Day 10

Can't believe there's just one more day for Scintilla! I may have to go back and pick upthe prompts I didn't choose.

Today's selection:
1. Talk about breaking someone else's heart, or having your own heart broken.

2. Pet peeves. We've all got 'em. What are yours? Write about a time when you experienced one so vividly that we all join your army of defiance.

Let's go with #2. 


 I'm a bit of a grammar Nazi. (Okay, I can get really wrapped around the axle about some aspects of grammar and punctuation. But that was my job for years: to final proof everything that came through the creative department and to sign off on it. I can't help seeing errors in menus, in books  --some are really bad -- in magazines and newspapers, on posters, in programs. Sometimes I point them out, gently, depending on who and what it is. Mostly I shake my head in despair and wonder if students are actually being taught proper grammar and punctuation today.)

My biggest pet peeve is the misuse of the apostrophe, ESPECIALLY in the difference between ITS and IT'S. 

(Actually, there is a whole book written about punctuation. Eats, Shoots & Leaves, which I loved reading even though the author is British and there are style differences between British English and American English. It is delightful, especially for writers and editors.)

But I digress.

So the difference between ITS and IT'S is this: IT'S is short for it is or it has. (NO exceptions. If you can't substitute IT IS or IT HAS in the sentence, don't use the apostrophe.)
ITS is the possessive form of it. 

If you're still confused, read more here. But come on, people. This is not rocket science.

I saw it misused last week in our local paper, right here on the front page.  Can you spot it? (Third sentence.)

I've seen in in magazines, reputable ones. I see it in newsletters with more frequency than I'd like. There's an area blogger who loves to put apostrophes in random words, like these examples: " ...for little Leprechaun's..."  " ...there are lots of variety's..."  

I know it shouldn't. But it makes me crazy. 

If you read this blog regularly, I know you'll find my own misspellings and grammatical liberties, although the latter is partly just my style of writing in this venue. (The misspellings I do try to correct when I see them, but you also realize that a writer cannot accurately proof his/her own work, don't you? EVERY writer needs an editor. All it takes me for to see my errors is to put it in print -- a newspaper or magazine or program or poster -- and then boyoboyoboy, do I see it. And so does everyone else. Yikes. I hate that.)

There are some grammar/punctuation/usage things I have to look up every damn time, like the difference between 'lay' and 'lie,' 'that' and 'which,' and essential/non-essential clauses. (I have three reference manuals: The AP Stylebook, The Chicago Manual of Style, and The Gregg Reference Manual, and they don't agree on some points. I don't use them much anymore -- but when I was editing and proofing, the stickier issues were tabbed so I could find them quickly.)

But is it too much to ask for people to learn the difference between the contraction of IT IS (IT'S) and the possessive ITS? 

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Scintilla Project - Day 9

The menu du jour: We'll attempt to list 23 recipes, doing #2. (Or maybe we'll do 10 recipes. Or whatever...)

1. Talk about the ways in which your body is awesome.

2. Write a list of 23. (23 things to do, 23 people you owe apologies to, 23 books you've lied about reading, 23 things you can see from where you're sitting, 23 ten-word hooks for stories you want to tell....)

In no particular order, here are some recipes (and links to them) that I love making, including, if applicable, my adaptations. I'm all about lower fat, lower carb these days, and little sugar, although some of these do NOT fit any of those, but I've included them because they're so good.

1. Easy No-Rise Pizza Crust. This has been my go-to recipe for homemade pizza for some time, but last night I figured out how to make it diabetic-friendly! Cut the recipe in half, using whole wheat flour, and stir in two cups of grated zucchini, well-drained. Let it rise at least 10 minutes. Pat the crust onto a pizza stone, or a cookiie sheet, and bake it 5 minutes. Top with a homemade (sugar-free) sauce and all the healthy veggies you want -- I added some sliced turkey sausage, grated Parmesan cheese, and maybe 3/4 cup of grated mozzarella. Bake about 15 minutes or until brown. Nice, thin, good-for-you crust!

2. Hearty Vegetable Soup. My standard veggie soup recipe, and my, oh, my, it is GOOD and freezes well. Resist the urge to add additional spices, although I love adding a can of diced tomatoes with green chilis to zip it up. I also make a smaller quantity for just us. Like so many veggie soups, this gets better as it sits.

3.Whole Wheat Irish Soda Bread Muffins. I halved this recipe too, and used sour non-fat milk (because I had no buttermilk) and omitted the raisins when I made them to serve with our St. Patrick's Day corned beef and cabbage. Satisfying and healthy.

4. Crustless Cranberry Pie. Okay, so this isn't something that's necessarily all that carb-friendly, but it is good. I made it sometime in December and probably used half to two-thirds the sugar and at least half whole wheat flour. Especially with a scoop of ice cream or a dollop of whipping cream, this makes a tangy, nice sweet treat.

5. Crockpot Lasagna. Especially when it is way too hot to light the oven but you're tired of salads, this recipe gives you some good lasagna taste without heating up the kitchen. I always use low or no-fat cheese options when I can, including the cottage cheese, and whole wheat lasagna noodles.

6. Bread Machine Focaccia with Sundried Tomatoes. Not low-carb, but great to take to a potluck or for an appetizer. I've got jars of dried tomatoes in my pantry from past gardens, so I use those, reconstituted, and substitute half whole wheat flour. Works really well with a bread dipper too.

7. Hot Sour Chicken and Noodles. I cut this out of Family Circle decades ago and it is our family's preferred home remedy for colds, especially with extra vinegar and hot sauce. We call it Spicy Chicken Soup. I often use leftover rotisserie chicken in it, and boil the carcass and skin for the broth. I omit the miso, mainly because it's not an ingredient that I can easily find in the grocery store. It always makes the sickie feel better.

8. Apple Pie by Grandma Opie. NOT, so NOT, a low anything recipe. But it is an amazing apple pie. I spice the apples with cinnamon and nutmeg because I like a spicy pie, and I pile 'em high. The caramel sauce makes it wonderfully rich and different.

9. Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie. So while we're on rich desserts, this one came from my friend Melissa, and I made it for a couple of Christmas gifts last year, in addition to keeping one for ourselves. Big yum. No healthifying this one, I'm afraid.

10. Whole Wheat Zucchini Herb Bread. Love my Zojirushi bread machine! And this is a great way to use up some of those surplus summer zucchinis in a healthy bread that tastes great. If I don't have the sesame seed, I omit it.

11. Ice Cream Sandwich Dessert. Oh, another not-healthy recipe, but fun and easy. The hardest part is unwrapping all those ice cream sandwiches. Sort of like a Dairy Queen Peanut Buster Parfait in a cake pan.

12. Layered Ice Cream "Cake". Better than Baskin Robbins, and you can customize the flavors! I made this for my friend Maureen's birthday -- she wanted an ice cream cake with lots of chocolate, so I used chocolate chip, triple chocolate, and fudge tracks ice creams, layered with hot fudge and caramel toppings. Sent big chunks home with the honoree and guests, too!(Clearly I refused to even look at the sugar, carbs, and fat content.)

13. Copycat Olive Garden Zuppa Toscana Soup. We like the spicy hot Italian sausage in this, and red potatoes, and I usually use fat-free half and half instead of the heavy cream just because. But it's a delicious soup.

14. Garlic Bubble Bread. Fun and easy to take to a potluck! I used the frozen rolls (thawed) rather than bread dough, but I'll bet you could do this like the ever-popular overnight monkey bread recipe and leave it to rise for several hours. This is comfort food, not health food.

15. Mediterranean Kale and White Bean Soup. This is a non-creamy soup with tremendous flavor. I also used a can of diced tomatoes, and you could substitute swiss chard or spinach for the kale. We prefer the hot Italian sausage.This is a good low-fat and lower carb recipe, as long as the sausage is well-drained. I usually cut that amount in half -- still get the flavor, but not all the fat.

16. Pimiento Cheese Spread. Nobody can live in the South and not taste pimiento cheese. This is pretty close to what I make, although I do NOT use Miracle Whip, and certainly not that much mayo either. I've been known to use some Velveeta if I have it, or to use up odds and ends of cheese too, but it is best with the sharp cheddar. This is also yummy on party rye for an appetizer, or as a sandwich on regular rye. Not especially low calorie or carb, however.

17.  Grapefruit Pie. My mother first served us this pie when we visited my folks in the Rio Grande Valley over the Christmas holidays back in the mid-1990s. They wintered there and tremendously enjoyed the citrus orchards and fresh veggies that were available at the famer's markets. The grapefruit take some time to peel and pith, but the results are delicious. I've successfully used sugar-free jello and Splenda in this recipe. If you use a nut crust, you can limit the carbs.

18. Spinach-Apple Salad with Almonds. The sugary almonds really make this salad special. I've used either agave or stevia in the dressing to sweeten without the sugar. Love the Honeycrisp apples in this.

Okayyyyy. My Internet connection is not doing well at the moment -- too many gusty winds blowing our next storm in, so we're going to call it a post at 18.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Scintilla Project - Bonus Day 2

What is it that you're sure you'll never forget about being this age, or an age of your choice?

I've never been one to remember exact years or even exact ages, unlike my ex-husband who could tell me exact years and sometimes dates of certain events. Oh I remember some milestones -- date and year and place, if applicable -- and usually they are dates I'd prefer I did not remember.

This year I am 64, and I'm sure I will not forget it: it began uneventfully enough in November, but just after Christmas I was put on a heart monitor for a month and we discovered that I have atrial fibrillation, certainly not untreatable but nevertheless frightening.

And then my beloved husband retired from work near the end of February -- after being in corporate life since 1968. We'd been planning and talking about this day for literally years, and it had been delayed more than once in the last year because of situations at his workplace.

 He'd gotten his own smack-upside-the-head moment shortly after I'd gotten news about the afib: he has type 2 diabetes. (He's written about it in his own blog, Cat-E-Whompus. Triple whammy here: both of us with health issues, and retirement -- the latter certainly anticipated and welcomed, but an event which ranks right up there on the stress level with marriage, death, and childbirth.

Early in March, I was finally getting used to the afib meds, adjusting as blood testing deemed necessary, and beginning to feel more like I could resume a 'normal' life. He was getting used to his new meds and we'd adjusted our diet somewhat both to lose weight and for his diabetes. We planned a quick ocean getaway.

And then on March 5, I was gobsmacked with what we think was a kidney stone: a thoroughly unpleasant experience that reinforced the feeling of how quickly life can change. And Tony got the green crud infection that has taken so many people out for weeks, feeling sick and weak and coughing up crud.

Four months since we turned 64, and all of a sudden we both are feeling fragile and old, vulnerable, unsure of how much I dare do, how far we dare travel, and wondering what is next.

I want a do-over.

Slowly I'm coming back to the place where I feel good, that life is resuming its more predictable pace. Tony is nearly over the cough and is feeling much better. We've both lost weight, a good thing. My meds are working, and as I've talked a bit more about the afib, I'm discovering how many people have it and continue to work and play and just 'carry on.' And many others know first-hand about kidney stones. I am not the first person to face these challenges, and I'm learning from others how to do it.

So there are two choices here: I can slow my life and activities down in fear of illness and stay close to home and doctors, or I can do all I can with medication and sensible management and do the things we want to do in retirement. At 64, I'm choosing the latter. But this is a year I'll never forget. And I hope it gets better than it has started.

The Scintilla Project - Bonus Day

Talk about a time when you lost your temper.


I seldom actually lose my temper: I do a slow boil,  a ramp-up that I can usually defuse before it blows because it takes a lot to get me to the breaking point. Sometimes that process involves little pops of emotion that help ease the ramp-up time, but those aren't too volatile and are quickly over. When I truly lose it, I deterioriate into pulsing, red-faced rage, spouting and shouting words that may be laced with obscenities and making little sense, and eventually resulting in hot, angry tears. It leaves me weak, wrung out, and extremely dissatisfied with myself.

One time that stands out happened when Princess #1 was a teenager and dating a guy who was a year older and who was not raised with a lot of limits, far as I could tell, despite the fact that he was a Southern boy and children are usually very respectful towards adults.

He especially did not like that I wanted to know where my daughter was going, what time she'd be home, and other such details. While he was very intelligent, he was not a particularly good conversationalist either, and I thought he coerced R into doing and seeing things that she didn't really want to do -- like watching "Silence of the Lambs," for instance, a rather intense, frightening movie that I knew she would never have willingly watched.

One afternoon -- a Sunday, because I remember I was reading the newspaper -- he was at our house and they were about to go somewhere. I asked my usual questions and got  sullen, terse answers. I remember saying, "Well, be home at ..." whatever time I thought was reasonable and which neither of them, clearly, did..

On their way to the front door, they were talking in undertones, but I distinctly heard him mutter "Bitch."

I held the paper tightly in both hands, breathing hard, and thinking, "I will not react. I will not react. Let it go. I do not need to react."

And then my temper flared into brilliant redness and that little devil said, "The HELL I will..."

I threw the paper down and charged out the door, yelling at him. I don't remember what I said, but I think part of it was about respect, part was about about plain old courtesy, and part was about parenting. He came back to the front porch and we stood there, angry face to angry red face, my body tense and quivering with rage and indignation, and he informed me that he had been raised not to respect anyone who didn't deserve it, and that I didn't, that I was a bitch -- which of course fueled my rage even more.

R was extremely upset by this, watching her mother and her boyfriend yelling and furious, and began crying and begging us to stop fighting, and threatening to drive off in her car to get away from us. (I'm sure it didn't help that it was right in the front yard where anyone in the neighborhood could have seen or heard it...)

I tamped my fury down then, and went to my daughter to try to calm her down, to keep her safe. I remember that the whole fight was never resolved, but for her sake I wasn't going to pursue it further, and the boyfriend had at least shut up and was also trying to calm R down.They left, eventually, and I went back inside to try to deal with my bubbling anger and disgust at the situation, and to try to figure out how to deal with him in the future.

I never liked him, especially after that episode. And I probably lightened up a little on the questions and curfews (which perhaps were a little too stringent). But I was glad when she broke up with him, although it took at least another year, and I never trusted him.

The Scintilla Project - Day 8

Another day missed -- and posted late. Oh well. Number 1, here we go.

1. What are your simplest pleasures? Go beyond description and into showing the experience of each indulgence.

2. Who was your childhood best friend? Describe them--what brought you together, what made you love them. Are you still friends today?

* Sliding into a bed made with fresh clean sheets, especially the organic cotton ones which soften more every time you wash them. (I love my flannels, however, and they run a close second.) But the lovely scent and feel of the clean linens -- which lasts just one night -- always makes me feel indulgent and pampered and instantly relaxed. Hotel linens don't do it for me. It's the ones at home, on my own bed.

* The first sip of a cup of Earl Grey tea, hot and steaming, is immensely satisfying. I drink tea every day -- usually a breakfast tea or Wulong or mint -- but the Earl Grey with its fragrant bergamot makes me feel a bit as though I'm sitting in an English tearoom. Bring on the crumpets and clotted cream, please.

* Watching a favorite television program in our darkened living room on a wintery evening with the woodstove glowing warmly and the kitties sleeping on their tuffets in front of it: I'm wrapped in either the Joseph's coat afghan my mother crocheted so long ago or in a lighter weight one given to me by a friend, and sitting in my favorite leather chair with my slipper-clad feet on the matching ottoman. My honey sits next to me, feet up, in his well-worn leather recliner. The angel figures on the plant shelf high above the woodstove are backlit silhouettes in a field of starry minilights, and I feel very peaceful, very lucky, warm, and well-loved.

* Coming into the kitchen to fix breakfast and finding that my honey has emptied the dishwasher and washed up any remains of a night-before snack never fails to make me smile. He does it every day, every time the dishwasher is run, but it still makes me feel loved and appreciated.

As the song says, "These are a few of my favorite things..."

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Scintilla Project - Day 7

The prompts:
1. List the tribes you belong to: cultural, personal, literary, you get the drift. Talk about the experience of being in your element with your tribes.

2. Talk about a time when you saw your mother or father as a person independent of his or her identity as your parent.

Number 2, you're up.
 Before she married my father, my mother taught school in rural Wisconsin and Minnesota communities, sometimes living with a host family, teaching all grades. She didn't have a bachelor's degree, she had the number of college credit hours it took back in the 1940s to get a teaching certificate, and during the summers, continued to work on her degree.

After my folks married, she taught just one year in the tiny district where my father was superintendent. And she got pregnant with me, partly, I think, to avoid another year of trying to be a teacher AND the superintendent's wife (my dad was in charge of consolidating several rural school districts: not a popular move in many of those little Minnesota towns).

Nearly three years later, my brother was born, and Mother stayed home with us until my brother was in first grade (about 1956, I think), when she accepted a teaching job teaching fourth grade at a district slightly outside of  the Springfield (Mo.) city limits. The city schools required a bachelor's degree; Pleasant View did not.

So she also went back to school in the summers, to what was then Southwest Missouri State Teacher's College.

After that first year, we moved to a house that was actually within walking distance -- a long walk, to be sure, but walkable -- of the college, although she still taught at the same school. I remember her studying diligently, sometimes sending us off to the summer programs at a nearby city park, or to the swimming pool at another park, also nearby,  so she could have some uninterrupted study time. She'd sit under the pear tree with pencil and paper, taking notes and reading thick textbooks, sipping iced tea.

This student was my mother, but she was a beloved teacher to many students as well, and I got to see that side of her on the rare occasions when we'd be allowed to come to open houses or school events, and to meet some of her students there.

She did not drive at that time. She rode to teach school with other teachers; she either walked or took the city bus (which stopped across the street from our house) anywhere she needed to go, and so did we, when she finally allowed us to go unaccompanied.

And when I was about to graduate from eighth grade in 1961, she graduated from college, cum laude. I remember sitting in the gymnasium bleachers, watching as black-gowned and capped student after student walked across the dais to receive a diploma and handshake from the college's regent.

And then it was my mother's turn. "Marjorie Mae Dahl Kershaw," the announcer intoned. "Bachelor of Science in Education." There she was, my mother, smiling as she accepted the sheepskin and shook hands. We clapped loudly, although we didn't dare cheer at such a solemn event, unlike the graduation ceremonies of today.

That year, she began teaching at a school in town, still some distance from our house, precious degree in hand. But she didn't stop there: she began taking classes at Drury College towards her masters degree. And two years later, as I was about to turn 16 and get a driver's license, SHE took a summer class in driver's education and got her license just months before I did, in a little 1950-something Nash Rambler automatic shift car that my dad had purchased for her because she so hated the stick shift car that he always drove. Bonus for me: I got to take my test in that car too.

I don't remember the year she got her masters; I don't remember if I was at the graduation ceremony. I do remember seeing her in her academic hood, and I am pretty sure that she graduated with honors again.

My mother continued to teach fourth, fifth, or sixth grades in the Springfield district until she retired in 1981 with my dad because they wanted to travel and do things together rather than wait another five years. She was 60 years old.

She received yearly letters and cards until she died from not only the student teachers she'd mentored over the years, but also from so many of the students she taught, even back as far as Pleasant View. At least three of them came to her memorial service in 2005.

Her influence and skill as a classroom teacher garnered her district-wide recognition and praise, and her principals loved her. I was proud of her, my mother, the teacher Mrs. Kershaw.

The Scintilla Project - Day 6

Prompts today -- er -- Tuesday. (I'm behind.) I'm going with #1, more or less.

1. Write the letter to the bully, to the cheater, to the aggressor that you always wanted to but couldn't quite. Now tell them why they can't affect you anymore.

2. Talk about an experience with faith, your own or someone else's.


To someone I used to know, a long, long time ago in another place, another time, another life:
You were my friend.
At least that's what you told me, many times. We spent time together, enjoyed wonderful meals and playing games and watching television and talking, talking. We shared very personal, deep stories and cried together, and you told me you felt like we had a special bond, that we were so alike in many ways. It felt very precious to me, our friendship, and I loved being your friend.

Oh, I knew I wasn't your BFF, and that's okay, because you weren't mine either, but we told each other about those women in our lives, those strong, funny, wonderful women who meant so much to us and with whom we'd shared so many experiences over the years. "You'd love her," we both said. We swapped recipes and told stories about our mothers and our feelings and we laughed, too, a lot.

When some of our friends had a falling out and everybody was all gossipy and snippy and taking sides, you said, "We're not in junior high anymore! Get over it."  And I did. I thought you did too.
And then it was over, boom. Like one of us died, or moved suddenly and left no forwarding address. Except that we'd meet occasionally at events or in a store, and sometimes (but not always) exchange empty pleasantries, you smiling with your mouth but never again with your eyes. That stopped too, those occasional meetings, partly because when I would see you in a store or on the street or at an event, I began to go the other way to avoid you. Perhaps you did the same.

I didn't know what happened. And I grieved a long time, wracking my brain to think of what I might have said or done that caused such an abrupt break, painfully going over conversations and events again and again.

 It is in my deepest people-pleasing nature to blame myself for such things, for someone deciding to 'break up' with me. I wanted to get over it, I really, really did, and I tried hard to let it go, to think kindly of you and hope that you were all right. But such hurt and rejection don't leave easily or swiftly.

Friendships often are seasonal -- linked to a particular time and place and life situation (like when your kids are little and you're sharing soccer bleachers or Girl Scout troop duties) -- and when the need/situation is no longer there, the connection drifts away, hopefully leaving some pleasant memories.

You chopped our friendship off at the very root of it; there was no withering, no easy drifting away. Time and perspective help heal pain and grief, allow unhealthy memories to fade, and to accept that people and situations change, our needs change. I still wonder what happened, but that's because I am a storyteller and I always want to know all the details, to know the 'rest of the story.'

I used to think the loss was mine, and my fault. But you: you threw away an exceedingly loyal, loving friend in choosing to reject our friendship. I finally understood that the biggest loss was yours.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Scintilla Project - Day 5

Ooo. Now if I wrote about #1, I wouldn't have actually gotten away with it, would I? (And I'd have to kill you.) So I guess we're on to #2.

1. Talk about a time when you got away with it.

2. Show a part of your nature that you feel you've lost. Can you get it back? Would it be worth it?


I used to have a lot of energy: as a younger woman I had a job, a house to take care of, a child in school and assorted activities (and I attended all of them) and a husband who worked a lot, a member of two choirs and active volunteer. Later I was involved in community activities, creating things, working, writing stories, attending events. I used to have a passion for getting involved in causes or organizations, from marching in picket lines to taking charge of the whole enchilada.

I'm not exactly sure when I lost that passion, that energy.

But I think it coincides pretty much with when we rescued Princess #1 from a very bad situation that I don't think she would have survived. Like the proverbial onion, her story had layers upon layers, and a lot of them were rotten -- and I didn't discover most of it until our five-day road trip on our way west. Once she was here, more details came out, and over the following six months,  a truly sad and frightening scenario emerged from the wreckage that has continued to impact her life.

And mine.

You don't need to know details. Trust me on this.

Guiding her through the county health system and its programs has been an enormous, eye-opening education for me and for her. Healthcare advocacy is not for the faint of heart in any economic status, but when there is no money, no insurance, and the individual is not able to meet her own needs, it is a quest paved with much patience, repetition, frustration, and emotional pain. (Despite deep budget cuts, staff cuts and reorganizations, I have great respect for so many dedicated public health professionals who try so hard to make a difference in the lives of So. Many. People. They do what they can with what they've got.)

Watching the child you loved and raised from an infant sob out stories that would make the tabloids look like bedtime reading does a number on your heart, your soul, and your mind. Realizing that she is an adult who is responsible for her decisions and that you no longer can ground her as a temporary solution takes an emotional (and physical) toll, and changes nearly everything in your relationship.

And that's where I think I lost the part of me that led groups and marches and got involved in activities and sang and acted and sewed and cared so passionately. .

I WAS involved and I DID care passionately: up to my eyeballs, with my whole being.. But it was all directed at doing the best I could for my daughter, and in the beginning, at 'fixing' her. Which any reasonable person is going to tell you can't be done, because we cannot 'fix' anyone but ourselves. I finally got that this last year, after three years.

She is doing better, I'm happy to report. She is responsible for her destiny, not me.

And I am responsible for mine. I can't change anything except my own mind, my own activities, my own life. And that's keeping me plenty busy, and a lot happier, these days. Eventually I think some cause, program, performance, or organization will again spark the enthusiasm and passion I once had in abundance, and I try to keep my eyes and my mind open to possibilities. But not just yet.

The Scintilla Project - Day 4

For Day 4: We'll go with door number 2. (A trip to Redding and assorted other things kept me from writing Monday.)

1. Talk about your childhood bedroom. Did you share? Slam the door? Let someone in you shouldn't have? Where did you hide things?

2. What does your everyday look like? Describe the scene of your happiest moment of every day.

One of the joys of being retired (or on vacation) is not setting an alarm clock, at least most days. (If I have a 10 o'clock class or appointment, yeah, I set it for about 7:45 to allow myself time to get breakfast and shower, and not to be hurried about either.)

I am not a lark. I have NEVER been an early riser if I could choose. I do not sing cheerily in the mornings, engaging in light-hearted, amusing conversation, nor do I do tasks that require a great deal of mental focus and acuity, like, oh, math of any kind (not that I do much of that anyway).

As an employee, I used mornings to proofread documents or file papers. I did not write stories or work on ads. My creativity begins to wake up after 10, and is usually highest between 11 and 4, although I certainly can work late into the evening when necessary.

Nowadays, after breakfast is done and assuming I have a free morning, I head to the computer to read e-mail, browse blogs and Facebook, maybe putz online, checking out free Kindle downloads or what's on sale at my favorite shoe sites. Nothing that requires mental focus and acuity, y'see?

I'm responsible for grocery shopping and meal prep, so almost always in the back of my head, I'm figuring out what's on the menu for the day and how long it'll take to fix.

Usually Mondays are laundry days, fresh sheets and towels, and general tidying. Tuesdays and Thursdays are yoga classes, and I try to plans shopping trips, prescription runs and the like for those days since I'm in town anyway. Since I'm the representative payee for my daughter, I also try to fit in her shopping or bill-paying days then as well. That can eat up a big chunk of a day.

I am never without something that needs doing: closets or drawers or cabinets that need cleaning, R's bills to sort and pay and record, papers to be sorted and dealt with. (I am never done, either. And there's always the attic that MUST be dealt with before the weather gets hot: all those ancient papers and half-finished crafts and old suitcases.) Garden season is coming up, and I know I'll be spending time outside prepping the space, planting, weeding, watering. There are weeds to kill, fallen limbs and debris from the winds to pick up, meadow grass to trim back, a big burn pile. There's never a shortage of outside chores that need doing either, although I'm not always eager to get out there and do them. And yeah, I try to get on the treadmill and 'jiggler' at least several times a week, although my will is weak.

I read two newspapers most days, though, and because of the rising cost of newspapers and subsequent decrease in page count, that can take anywhere from 10 to 45 minutes. I love the feel of the newspaper in my hand, unlike my techie husband who prefers his news digitally, and as long as I can still subscribe to a print version, I'm likely to do so. We also get several magazines, and I'm likely to spend a little time reading through current issues. Although I love to read novels, I rarely do that during the day, saving that treat for bedtime. If I got involved in a novel, we'd be eating crackers and cheese for dinner and nothing else would happen.

Most evenings find us settled in front of the television, watching a pre-recorded episode of one of our favorite series, or perhaps a movie. I might knit while I'm watching; sometimes I skim through magazines that I've set aside.

Pretty boring, hm?

One thing I am *not* is super-involved in anything right now.  I've done that: off to meetings and gatherings and committees and rehearsals. I know something will eventually pique my interest enough to want to jump into it again and get passionate about a cause or an event or a program, but at this moment, I'm enjoying being a homebody, a bit of a slug.

Far and away my favorite moment of any given day is bedtime: both of us are snuggied down in the bed, either iPad or magazine in hand to read a bit, kitties starting to settle in their favorite places on our bed. Our little sound machine generates soothing ocean wave sounds; the bed is comfortable and warm, and the love of my life looks at me with his big brown eyes and tells me how much he loves me, adores me, cherishes me. And I smile back at him with my eyes, my mouth, my soul.

It just doesn't get better than that.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Scintilla Project - Bonus 1

The bonus prompt for Saturday is to talk about a time you left home.

I left home and went home the same day in September 1997.

A few days before I left Birmingham, Ala., a moving company had picked up boxes of possessions, assorted pieces of furniture, and many books. They would arrive about two weeks later in Pacifica, Calif., to a tiny apartment by the ocean.

I was leaving my home of seven years, my husband of 27 years, and many friends to move to California -- by myself -- because it was something I *had* to do. It wasn't that I had ties to my new home, although I have relatives scattered throughout the west. It was me. I had come to a place where I needed some changes, and the life I'd been living was not the life I wanted to live anymore. I knew I did not want to ever look back at my life and wonder "What if..."

That Sunday morning when I left home, I'd kissed my husband's forehead as he headed off to church and his responsibilities there and saw tears in his eyes: we would divorce over the next several months, a mutual and amicable decision. I finished my coffee, put my computer, a little television and a small suitcase in my new Saturn sedan, and turned to look once more at what was no longer my home: the roses and vines I'd planted on the side of the steep driveway, the red front door, the sheer curtains in the windows. I was done here.

And then I headed north and west to Springfield, Missouri -- to my parents' home, the Tudor-styled two-story house that they'd lived in since I was 10. That night, after a warm welcome and good dinner, I went to sleep in my old bedroom; the bed, dressing table, even the lamps of my girlhood still the same, and feeling a bit out of place: for the first time in my life, I had no home of my own, not then. I'd left home and come home -- but I wasn't home.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Scintilla Project - Day 3

Today's prompts. I'm going with the first one.

1.Talk about a memory triggered by a particular song.

2. What's the story of the most difficult challenge you've faced in a relationship? Did you overcome it? What was the outcome?

Several songs popped into my head when I read this prompt. Like most people, some of the best and worst moments of my life have a song associated with them.

I remember listening to the Moody Blues "Nights in White Satin" constantly during one particularly difficult time in college, driving my roommate practically to the point of homicide -- it was either me or that record, and one of us was not coming out of the room intact. "My Heart will go On" from the movie Titanic was the song that played constantly the winter that Tony and I met.

But the one that always makes me a little wistful is "Catch the Wind" by Donovan. It was summer of 1965, and my boyfriend and I were about to leave for college -- separate schools, his some 800 or so miles away (in North Carolina) from mine in northern Missouri.

We had a wonderful relationship, really. He was my first boyfriend -- two years in high school, and two plus, more or less, in college. We had a great time together and I learned to be more extroverted because of him: he was everyone's friend and a great dancer, talented writer, voracious reader, and I knew that if I was going to be with him, I had to overcome my own shyness.

And it was largely that relationship that clarified forever my beliefs about sexuality and love. One day during our senior year, he'd taken me out on the school lawn during lunch hour to confess that he was attracted to a boy in our choir and that they'd kissed. It wasn't that he didn't love me, but it was that also he loved the boy. And we talked about his feelings and my feelings and societal views and God's views (we were both very involved in our respective church youth groups -- me Methodist, him Presbyterian -- and often attended each other's church functions). As it evolved, we stayed together as boyfriend/girlfriend, and the boy was a part of the large group -- the Motley Horde, as we called ourselves -- that we socialized with.  I was okay with things as they were: to my knowledge, he and the boy were just friends after that confession.

The moment I remember best, though, at least in relation to the song, was sitting on the front steps of his house one hot late summer afternoon, and talking about our relationship and how being apart was likely to impact it.We talked about his bisexuality, as we understood it then, and about dating others, and about what we'd meant to each other. We quoted lyrics to each other (as only the young can do) from "Catch the Wind," teared up a little at them, held hands, and cuddled together for one of the last times before leaving. We knew college would change us; he was uncertain about his own sexuality and feelings, and warned me he couldn't promise me anything. Because I loved him, because I understood that he was speaking his conflicted truth, I accepted that. The song seemed to say everything about what we hoped for and wanted in a relationship, and yet how impossible it was to capture at that time in our lives.

Note: At one point in  college, he decided he wanted to marry me, and I agreed. That didn't happen, at least partly because eventually I figured out more clearly what I wanted from life and a mate. He has been in a loving, long-time relationship with a wonderful man, and they attended Tony's and my wedding. I will always love him for all that he meant to me then and all I learned from him.

"In the chilly hours and minutes
Of uncertainty
I want to be
In the warm hold of your lovin' mind.

To feel you all around me
And to take your hand
Along the sand,
Ah, but I may as well try and catch the wind.

When sundown pales the sky
I want to hide a while
Behind your smile,
And everywhere I'd look, your eyes I'd find.

For me to love you now
Would be the sweetest thing,
'T would make me sing,
Ah, but I may as well try and catch the wind.

Diddy di dee dee diddy diddy,
Diddy diddy diddy dee dee dee.

When rain has hung the leaves with tears
I want you near to kill my fears,
To help me to leave all my blues behind.

For standin' in your heart
Is where I want to be
And long to be,
Ah, but I may as well try and catch the wind. ~ Donovan, "Catch the Wind" (you can listen here)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Scintilla Project - Day 2

Today's possibilities:
 1. When did you realize you were a grown up? What did this mean for you? Shock to the system? Mourning of halcyon younger days? Or the embracing of the knowledge that you can do all the cool stuff adults do: drink wine, go on parent-free vacations, eat chocolate without reprimand?

2. No one does it alone. Write a letter to your rescuer or mentor (be it a person, book, film, record, anything). Share the way they lit up your path.

Let's try the second prompt today.

Dear Mrs. Simmons,
You may not remember me, but you were my English teacher for several classes in high school, most notably the advanced literature classes. I was the one who wrote a book report on "Fanny Hill." (And I worked really hard to justify that book, which you recognized with an "A," thankyouverymuch).

You also introduced me to all the works of J.D. Salinger, among many others, and the philosophy of Søren Kierkegaard. And taught me the foundations of literary analysis and criticism. And how to write a well-organized, well-researched paper, as well as many creative essay topics, and how to defend my opinions (which were certainly strong ones, weren't they!)

You encouraged discussion in our classroom, and we responded. Looking back, those classes included some of the brightest and best students in my class, and while I sometimes fumed at the lively and diverse and opinionated discourse, I was never bored.

You not only challenged me to read and to analyze what I was reading, your techniques and methods became the foundation for my own classroom (I taught high school English and speech classes for just three years, but in my work in marketing/public relations/communications, I had the opportunity to mentor many assistants and interns over the years.)

You were not my favorite teacher, at least while I was in school. I don't think I was your favorite student either. But when I think back on the teachers/mentors throughout my life, you had a huge impact on who I have become and the process of how I got there.

I didn't major in English because of you; I majored in English because, when I realized halfway through my freshman year that I was NOT going to be a Methodist minister after all and that indeed I had some serious philosophical and theological questions about the whole thing (and I'm sure you are not surprised), I chose the subject I'd always most loved and excelled in. I am and have always been a reader and a writer. But you saw that from the first day, didn't you. You encouraged and pushed and challenged me, all the while maintaining your very practical persona: a middle-aged, somewhat frumpy teacher who'd been in the classroom for years.

Thank you for all those years of grading essays, of leading classes through Shakespeare and Moby Dick and Canterbury Tales and so many others, and still keeping it fresh and current, of listening to such highly opinionated and self-important juniors and seniors for yet another year, and for keeping us on track. Thank you for teaching me how to teach: I learned more from you than from all the college education classes and student teaching hours. Thank you for helping me find my voice and encouraging all of us to speak our minds, and to be respectful of each other as we did it. I don't think classrooms like yours exist anymore, and that is an enormous loss for today's students.

With deepest respect and gratitude,

Note: While this was not the letter I wrote, I did write a letter of similar thanks to Mrs. Simmons some 10 years after I graduated high school. She wrote a lovely letter back and told me that she'd never received a thank-you from one of her students before mine, and we exchanged several more letters. Since then, I have tried to express thanks and appreciation more often to those who have helped or influenced me deeply.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Scintilla Project - Day 1

Several weeks ago some of the folks who were involved in Reverb11 contacted those of us who participated to tell us of a new writing exercise, The Scintilla Project. 

Since I know I respond well to writing prompts, I signed up. If you're interested, so can you. And if you want to read more, there are lists of participants and links to their blogs on their website for these next two weeks. Tony is also participating; you can read his work here.

Today is the first day, and we were given two possible prompts: 1. Who are you? 2. Life is a series of firsts. Talk about one of your most important firsts. What did you learn? Was it something you incorporated into your life as a result?

Since I'm still figuring out who I am, and that can vary from hour to hour, I'll pass on the first prompt. However,  I definitely experienced a huge 'first' last week. Let me tell you about that today.

Monday started well, with errands and a salad lunch out with my honey. But by dinnertime, I was gasping and rocking back and forth with incredible pain, clad in a hospital gown on an exam table in our local hospital's busy emergency room.

I had been packing for a little Oregon coast getaway we'd planned for weeks, our first 'retirement' trip to one of our favorite places, Bandon. We'd planned to get supper at our favorite local spot.

The pain hit me about 4:45 pm at hip level, right side and to the  back, and suddenly -- fine one moment, gasping at the next. And then it grabbed hold of my right side from just below my breast to groin, hinging like a powerful vise grip around to the front. Within 20 minutes we were heading to the ER, me with a bit of ginger in my hand to try to keep me from throwing up on the way.

The ER had whole families sitting inside and outside, not quite a party atmosphere, but there was fast food and sodas in evidence, which didn't help my growing nausea. It felt like an hour, but I think I was called into the intake room within 20 minutes or so.

Apparently I had a kidney stone.

Time just stopped for me then: all I knew was pain and horrible nausea although they tried to squelch it with anti-nausea drugs and two doses of morphine, and nurses and techs taking vitals, blood, wheeling me to the CT scan, and my poor husband patting me, crooning "I'm so sorry, honey. I'm so sorry."

I know I rocked back and forth most of the time, sitting up more because I couldn't lay down. I know I tried desperately to breathe into the pain, which came in waves from bad to horrible, but never easing more than a split second, even with the drugs, and just ended up gasping with the impact. I know I answered questions but I'm not sure how much sense they made.

I know I understated the pain. You rate pain on a scale of one to ten. I said 'eight.' In truth, it was an eleven, looking back now. I couldn't stay still. My mouth was so dry (probably from the nausea drugs) that I could barely form words, but they didn't want to give me even ice chips until much later.

I remember hearing the people in the next bay, us separated by a thin curtain, discussing food in some detail. I remember wanting to yell at them to shut the F**K up about the food, but I couldn't stop gagging and gasping long enough.

The CT scan showed that my right kidney had a soft blood clot in it, obscuring any possible stone. The docs consulted with an on-call urologist in Redding; a decision was made to admit me for pain and nausea control, but that I didn't need to go to the larger hospital unless there was evidence of poor renal function. (When they finally got some fluids in me, that part worked fine, albeit bloody -- yeah, I know: TMI!)

Once they finally shot me up with dilaudid in another effort to corral the pain and I was waiting to be admitted, I finally unwound a little and was able to lean back against the pillows, at least enough to realize that it was very late and my husband had not had a bite to eat since lunch -- not a good thing for a diabetic. I talked him into leaving for home and food, but not until he had a room number for me, bless him.

When I finally got to my room (11:30 pm) and the nurse was helping me get settled, I finally tossed up the last shreds of whatever was in my stomach, sucked on some ice chips, and was finally able to sleep, at least until the next round of pain and nausea meds.

I heard the same thing from many of the nurses and doctors: kidney stone pain is worse than childbirth pain. At least at the end of childbirth you have a baby. As it turned out, I didn't even get a stone -- just some unanalyzable bits that 'might' have been a stone.

It was my first. I pray it will be my only.

Friday, March 02, 2012


A week ago today, Feb. 24, was a significant day for the two men who I have loved: my ex-husband Jim turned 70, and my beloved Tony retired.

Those are big steps.

Jim, I'm glad to report, had just come back from an extended trip through the Deep South with his wonderful wife Susan, and seems to be thriving and happy. I am lucky in that our divorce was fairly simple and that we remain friends. His wife was one of my students long, long ago when I taught high school in a little rural Missouri town. She attended the college where we worked, and we had some infrequent contact through the years. Several years ago she'd contacted Jim to see where I was, and they ended up dating and falling in love, and they married a few years ago. That makes me very happy.

Tony has been thinking of retirement for a long time, and it has been discussed, delayed several times for various reasons, and the timing debated for more than a year. Last Friday finally arrived, and he was given a good sendoff by his colleagues -- and he found it more emotional than expected. He has worked at a corporate job since he was 20 years old. As he likes to say, that was longer than the space shuttle flew, and it's now retired too.

So it's a new stage then in our lives, this state of not-working-for-a-paycheck.  None too soon, either: both of us have discovered some health glitches that require some attention and focus, and some redirecting of our habits.

I expect that wrapping our heads around this will take time. I know that years ago when I left an extremely stressful job and moved to another state with my family that it took me about a year to thaw, and some very deliberate behavior-modification too: I remember making myself sit on the back deck swing for 10 minutes every day and just watch the squirrels and birds playing in the greenbelt. Eventually it worked. But I came out of that a changed person.

Our job now, as I see it, is to certainly take care of the routine things like cleaning, finances, property maintenance, and going through the old files and books that were part of our past jobs to sort, pitch, and give away what no longer isneeded.

But it is also to cultivate the spirit that we've neglected or not had time for: the fun-loving, adventurous, knowledge-seeking, creative inner self that we know is there, wanting to come out and play after all the years of being an adult.

And our job is also to make it happen sooner rather than later. We do not know how long we will live: few of us know that, ever. But there are enough stories about people who get unexpectedly dire diagnoses or who die in accidents to make us want to make our moments meaningful and full of the life we want to live. Our health glitches only make that clearer.

For a long time we have tried to live one day at a time. Truly now our restrictions are only those we impose on ourselves, and it is up to us to choose how to live each day of our lives, for the rest of our lives, as long as we can do that. It is a time for second chances and new beginnings, once again.