A FRESH PERSPECTIVE

I love writing. Of any kind. You know I do.
But the last few years flattened me in some ways and I wanted to write but felt I didn’t
really have anything to say worth someone else’s time. I had lots of good paragraph, all
looking to become articles. But nothing that I felt excited enough about to take time to
just sit in front of this blank screen and make them come to life. I was pre-occupied with
shaping my own life in this new world of a pandemic, which caused rifts between friends
over politics, over church decisions, over masking and vaccines and the tons of other
stuff.
Even though I absent myself from discussions and arguing our points of view, it has still
changed my friendships. I sort of have a rule that we don’t talk politics and we don’t talk
covid while we are together.
Not why we gather anymore. I used to love discussing points of view with people who
have a very different perspective that I do. Iron sharpens iron, as the saying goes. My
thoughts were expanded and refined then.
Now it seems that, as much as I love the same people, a switch has been thrown and
anger and defensiveness weave their way through talking. There is no longer a
learning from each other, but a drive to be “right” and to prove it. I have listened to
people with previously soft words become instantly angry and defensive. People I have
never in twenty years heard say a negative or angry thing. People now looking for a
fight, that’s how it feels.
So I stick to the “no politics and no covid” rule because I love these people and want to
keep in relationship with them. We have too much history together to throw it all away
now, as I’ve seen so many others do. Severing relationship over this stuff. That’s not
for me.
Because I think, as polarized as everyone seems now, we all really want the same
things. At the bottom line anyway. At our core. Everyone wants to feel safe, to feel
secure, to be loved, and have good jobs. To feed our families and pay the mortgage with ease. Each “side” wants the same things. But we do disagree on what will get us
those things and what puts them at risk. On what path will bring that security we so
desperately are afraid we will lose.
Both “sides” are fighting for their lives, their way of life. And everyone seems afraid. And
fear makes us defend what we think will bring us safety. So we all want the same
things, we just disagree on how to get those things.
That’s a long explanation about how I’ve come out of some of my “writer’s block” for
blogging these past few years. I did however finish the book chronicling my trek from
being a really bad person to a pretty nice one. It was not an easy story to write, being
that vulnerable, but I finally finished several re-dos and additions. I have now forwarded
to a person who can format it correctly for Amazon Kindle.
So, after two or so years of barely posting anything to wildlyclara.com, I am ready to talk
about stuff again.
About my ever-new adventures and challenges, about losses and grieving, about
seeking to be really healthy at 79 without giving up those chocolate chip cookies and
mac and cheese!
PS: Next month I’m off to camp alone in BEAR country for 4 full nights – stretching my
skills and comfort levels by staying safe and living as minimally as I can!

NEW ADVENTURES!

I love to write.   Articles, teachings, even sermons on occasion.  But these past two years have been hard for all of us and I couldn’t think of  anything to write about that would have purpose and meaning.

I had started writing a book a few years back, a memoir actually, about a period of my life fifty years ago when I was a young gal.  Years that defined me and others around me, changed us forever. I had hit several stumbling blocks in the writing, so I had put the book aside to write blog articles and other stuff.

So for the past two years I pick up the book again, for some reason, highly motivated to finish it, partly because the things I’d learned from those difficult years seemed especially meaningful now.   And then it seemed I couldn’t write anything else till until the darn book was done!  

The Adventure begins now because the book has been edited, scrutinized by a professional and is ready to be put on Amazon or whatever other self-publishing company I choose. I tried traditional paths of publishing, finding an agent, and all that, but have decided to self-publish so that I have a voice in what happens to this most intimate and vulnerable telling of a part of my life.

All that is to say why you haven’t seen hardly anything from me on wildlyclara.com.  But I have the writing bug again, have things to talk about once again and this feels pretty good.

And I’m back to having Adventures! I wanted to try camping by myself, alone in the woods in a tent. Not just a cabin where I can lock the door, but out there in a tent where I have few, if any, protections. And to not be scared to death all night long!

So I did it last week. Bought my tent from Reactive. What happens when a person is sick in bed for a month? They play on their phone and find neat stuff to go have adventures with!  So I found this tent that you just unroll, lay out the posts, grab the big plastic knob at the top and yank it up and there you are! A tent all ready to crawl into.  Wondered how it’d really work and I was super pleased that my tent did just as the video showed! Amazing!

So I took off for my trial, practice run of “sleep-in-the-woods-by-myself”.  I wanted to see how survivalist I could be so I took minimal equipment and cooked all my meals on an open fire. Even took along an old percolator coffee maker!  Well, it was fun, but it was a lot of work. Takes about a half hour to get the fire going in the morning and the water boiling before there’s any chance I might have coffee!

My “wrapped in aluminum foil” meals were nutritious, but oh, so bland! I have some learning to do here.  

The best part is that I didn’t get scared even once.  But I was cold and bored and hungry and tired – the funnest, best thing is that I did this thing that challenged me and I didn’t give up and come home early. I stuck it out the whole time I’d planned.

Will I do it again? You betcha! Only I will find some recipes to make my food tastier, and I’ll settle for instant coffee in the morning.

My next Adventure Challenge is a road trip in my car by myself. I’m gonna head west, stay off the main roads, check out little towns, local restaurants, whatever. People ask me where I’m going ?  “I don’t know!”  And when they ask how long I’ll be gone,  “I don’t know!”

I’m just going to explore around and see what I can find. I’ll stay off the major highways because I’ve already seen what’s there.  I’ll stay in motels and eat at restaurants, thankfully I can afford to do that for a time. Not for too long though!  I’ll see new places and things and people, and have stories to cherish!  When I get bored, I’ll come home!

The end of July I will be 79 years old. Wondering how many more years I have to be perky, energetic, and have stuff to say and places to go and things to do! Wondering about that.

But then I remember that everyone is on the same kind of timing. If I were 20 I still would not be sure I had a whole lot more years to do all the things I wanted.

Each of us has only today. Maybe today. How do I want to live the rest of my life? It’s a good question we all can ask ourselves regardless of how old we are. Regardless of anything. If this is the last summer I will be healthy and alive, how do I want to live it?

I’m going to have fun adventures. Some alone, some with others.  I’m going to have a life that gives me stuff to write about!

THE VALUE OF BOREDOM

Every fall I go away for an extended time alone in a cabin in the woods and I’m off to do so again in a few days. I’ve chronicled it in previous posts.  I choose state park cabins because they are fairly primitive: no TV, no internet, heat by wood stove. There are lots of trails, which I love because I do some of my best restful pondering while hiking.  I am totally alone for at least four full days! Even my phone is out of reach of a tower. Often I am the only cabiner in the park, so I need to be extra careful hiking. If I fall and sprain an ankle or break a leg, I have would have to crawl out! It is an exhilarating adventure that I look forward to every year.

However, I have learned that I have a pattern of “it’s wonderful” to “it’s awful”. The first day I’m just getting settled, putting all my journaling and art stuff where I want it, laying out a jigsaw puzzle, getting a fire started and food organized. I peruse the trail map and outline each day’s hiking, hoping to do at least three each day.

Day two, I hike and write and draw and keep my fire going so I don’t freeze and generally enjoy the solitude, the absolute quiet. I do all the things I wish I had time for at home, and generally feel really good.

Somewhere in day three, boredom sets in. Unbearable boredom. I’ve done everything I wanted to, done three hikes, read, napped, all of it. And it’s only 2:00! The long afternoon and evening stretch before me and nothing, absolutely nothing, sounds like fun! I am so bored! I fuss around a bit and then notice that it’s now only 2:30! Those long silent hours I craved are now looming before me like a monster. I suffer through the next day or so. It is suffering because I almost become brain dead and just want to sit and do nothing. I can’t sleep. It is truly awful!

But then the miracle happens on the next day and my brain has divested itself of all the distractions that clutter my life and I come alive again. More alive than before I embarked on this journey! I am full of energy and ideas and feel inspired to do a ton of things. Mostly I love the new ideas and inspirations that come flooding over me. It is truly wonderful!

I’m thinking maybe I don’t need to always go away into the woods to find this place in my soul.  I’ve become aware of how often, at home, my days are cluttered with distractions that hinder creativity. That hinder peace in my soul. 

We seem to live in a culture that does not allow for boredom and so we avoid it at all cost.  And so I wonder, if I had days at home set apart from chatter and internet and television and fussing about my house or yard, could I bring some of the peace and turmoil from the cabin into my regular life? What would happen?

Would I get those amazing inspirations more often? If I couldn’t pick up my phone, or check email or Facebook and Instagram, couldn’t  turn on my laptop, what would happen? If I stopped fussing with my yard and house, what would happen? How many things on my “to do” list really need to be done today? If I let myself be bored for a while at home, what would happen?

It is a struggle because I am by nature and “doer”, one who gets things done and is super organized. But age and past illnesses are forcing me to take pause and think differently. About what matters and what brings me joy and excitement and what I really want to do with the remaining good years of my expiring life. 

What would happen if we all did it?  I’m gonna try it! Because becoming bored makes those things clear. Let’s go be bored today!          

RAMBLING THOUGHTS ABOUT RESTING MY BRAIN 

I have just turned 78!! Getting older never bothered me much, but as my body is catching up to the numbers, the last few years have given me pause to think about what I want to do with my remaining “perky” years. Someday travel will be too exhausting, it almost is now sometimes. Someday my kids will take the car keys! I like a nap several days a week now, and I know that someday I’ll need them every day.

I may very will live to 100, but I’m thinking of the next 5 years or so when I have energy and strength, and the will to take on adventures. I still do extra-rugged hikes, I can climb over big slippery rocks and go up the 100 stair steps some trails have. But it’s a stretch and I don’t like that.

This year has been tough for all of us. Shut-downs and staying at home affected everyone, but this past year I also lost my mother (she was 98), and lost some relationships that were important to me, relationships that were sometimes hard but held the promise of becoming really good. But that hope, that promise, was lost and I knew the relationship would never be really good. I also lost some relationships that I thought were really good, easy even. And those seem to be gone in a flash with one disagreement. I often wonder about the stress that hovers over us like a threatening black cloud. There seems to be very little any more that we know “for sure” and we grab for control somewhere, anywhere. And letting go is never easy.

It took me awhile to “bounce back” from all of that, to trod through anger, through wanting to run away and live alone in the woods somewhere. To not be tired of trying! To be me again. 

I am learning this year to be gentle with myself and whatever yucky place I am in. To know that I won’t stay there. At the time it seems that it will never end. But continuing to do all the things I know are good for me does bring the yucky stuff to an end in my heart. It may still be yucky, but it doesn’t stick to me. 

Because this year I’ve finally learned to live within the circle of my influence, in my wheelhouse as some would call it. If I have no choice, if there truly is nothing I can do to change the yucky, or if it’s really none of my business, then I try to “let it go.” I have that song from Frozen on my phone and I play it often when I am in the car. I even sing along if I am alone!

I’ve been absent from writing this blog for a while, partly because I was plodding through finishing a book. I felt bad about taking so long to finish it, often feeling lazy. Until I realized that writing, or art, or anything that helps us march through life in a good mood, these all stem from some creative part within us. And creativity cannot be called up because we are “supposed to” get something done. Creativity has to be fed. And rested. Sometimes we need to stop with the deadlines we put on ourselves and go find that spark again. Feed our souls. But then that can get us in a rut. There is a line, I think, between taking a rest to feed myself but then, if I rest too long, I become lazy and lethargic and cannot finding anything I want to do.

For me, while I love writing and the challenge of finding the right words and sentences is exhilarating, I never, ever want to do it. If I waited until I wanted to sit here at my laptop and put words to screen, I would never do it.  There comes the day, after resting and playing, that I must make myself be disciplined and just do it anyway. And quickly the joy then comes in the doing and words move easily onto the page.  That is one of my big take-aways of the past year.

So first, I rest and play. Pull out the Legos and build stuff. Go for a walk. Bake bread or cookies.  Draw silly stuff, maybe just put a bunch of colors on a page.  Anything to find inspiration, some spark that excites me, that pushes me out of bed each morning.

Then, and only then, I tackle the thing again. With renewed energy. With renewed creativeness.

And this feels really, really good! And I am glad!

A THOUGHT IN NEED OF FURTHER PONDERING

OK, here’s what I’m thinking, as I’m way past midlife. At almost 78, I guess I’m an endlife girl!

I used to see life as a series of many stages or phases, 1, 2, 3, etc; but now I’m thinking maybe not so much. Maybe only two.  First we build and explore in order to survive in a culture that teaches us to show off.  A culture that teaches us that what matters, what counts toward our worthiness, is what can be seen…either in a picture, an award, a line on a resume, or a paycheck.  Or whatever. That it must be seen somewhere, and acknowledged somewhere.  Phase 1 we climb and conquer and show the world. And we survive battles.  Or, if we don’t, we get depressed and cry and go searching for a new hill to climb and plant our flag at the top and say: “Hurrah! I did it! Look at me everybody!”

I used to look at older women and wonder where all their ambition went, why they didn’t pursue the prettiest houses, or clothes or decorate every room in the house for every holiday and cook 6 course meals. I thought they were lazy, or slowing down and vowed to my ownself that I would never be like that.

Well, now I know that phase 2 comes along and some of those things are thrown aside not because we are lazy but because our heart yearns for something else.

Phase 2 is more mystical, more about discovering our soul, what feeds it and causes us to grow inside. We find the purest joy in doing some things, and we give a lot of energy to them even if no one ever knows or sees them. The need for affirmation we have in Phase 1 is gone and we no longer chase after it.  We start enjoying sunrises and flowers and pets and everything we see, just because they are beautiful. We sit back and let the beauty of them invade us and grow gratitude in us…just us alone.  If they get shared, that’s ok, but it’s not why we are doing it.  And we also begin to wonder and notice what brings real joy to those around us.

In Phase 1 we do things for affirmation and we care a lot about what other people think. In Phase 2 we do them just because …well, just because, and we don’t care what people think.

I love to write, I have to write. It’s nice when others appreciate it, but that’s a passing thought. I write because it makes me feel so good to look at a page and be proud of it for my ownself.

I love to draw, and I’m not very good at it, but I draw because it always makes me giggle when I’m done.  Don’t ever have to show anyone, I just like drawing.

It may be hard to embrace Phase 2 because we are usually forced into it by retirement or illness or loss or age.   Maybe it’s so hard because now our heart longs to discover the hearts of others. What makes those close to us want to sing, to dance. 

It’s way easier to flow into Phase 2 when you are old, if you start in Phase 1. Enjoy a few solitary things for yourself and try not showing them to anyone.  Why wait  till you are over 70 before you start enjoying the “alone” things in life. Phase 2 can overlap Phase 1, and then it becomes the best!

CHAOS AND PEACE – FOLLOWUP

I have a very long dining room table. It sits 16 people before the leaf is added! I treasure the many  family dinners here, crowding in, bumping shoulders. My grand-daughter chooses the linens and plates and tablecloth. We line the silver and glassware along the table Martha Stewart style. 

It broke my heart to give it all up this year. The table has sat as idle as have people groups across the country. In my last article I pondered how to not be robbed of these “feed-my-soul” times with my large family and yet keep myself (age 77) and others safe.

We each are responsible for our own safety and we are responsible for finding a balance between physical health and soul health for ourselves. It requires a bit of dreaming, lots of letting go of how it was, and a healthy dose of risk-adventure taking. What feeds my soul may freak yours out. Since we are ok with that, I thought, in light of my last article, you may like to hear how I decided to have this holiday season.  Not so much philosophic wandering in this story, just “here’s how I found joy” in planning Thanksgiving Dinner.

We have an extra-large garage in our lot across the street from our live-in house. Mostly storage, with a nice corner for my treadmill. A long workbench lines the back wall. Enough space to accommodate tables spaced pretty far apart. Maybe not six feet, but better that butt-to-butt at the table in the house.

Covered the workbench with some festive Christmas tablecloths!  Positioned our four banquet tables into a loose square with walking distance between, and placed chairs only on the outside border so we could all see each other. Decorated everything with lots of small pumpkins and gourds and candles. I didn’t have four matching tablecloths but somehow that didn’t matter this year.

Placed food on the workbench, gave each person their own serving spoon.  Unseasonably warm weather gave us sunshine, and a fire pit in the driveway made that old unheated garage comfortable!

Back to the real house for pie and games, and puzzles and laying around. I didn’t worry about six feet of social distance because I had decided to be happy with two feet and to accept the risk. The reward would be worth the risk to me.

I would not advocate this for everyone. I am only navigating my own way to keep peace and joy in my life. To not give in to negative thoughts or complaining or depression.  It was a wonderful day that I will always treasure.

Now on to Christmas.  We live in northern Indiana, so chances of the garage being useable is almost zero.  We either gather in the house or not at all. In my heart, the not-at-all is out of the question! 

So I’m putting that long dining room table to a new use. Setting up three electric griddles, one at each end, one in the center. Adding an assortment of cheeses and breads and letting everyone make their own grilled cheese sandwich.  A big pot of homemade tomato soup on the stove in the kitchen will round it out.

I think my gang will turn this into a contest to see who makes the best grilled cheese, because they jump on every opportunity to have a contest. We have even had special trophies made for winners to take home.

This is a far cry from my dreamy Christmases, but in my heart this year I long for ease and comfort and lounging around and talking and just being. This Christmas seems more perfect than any I have ever done.  I have found joy. I have created joy in the midst of Chaos and I’m feeling pretty darn proud of myself because I am more that OK now.

May you find joy and peace this holiday in however you choose to do it.

BEING AT PEACE WITH MY UNREST

I am not at rest, not at ease. My mind churns over and over, looking to make a decision, to decide, to then be at rest.  But I am not at rest, and I wonder how it can not be so?

The Pandemic looms over us as the holidays approach. Something in our hearts propels us toward gathering. How can we not come together, share turkey and mashed potatoes, play games, draw names for Christmas gifts, drink wine, and look around the room at happy faces on people we love more than anything in the world? How can we not?

But then I ask myself, am I being foolish, defying the odds? I am 77 after all!  So will we be filled with remorse and regret and guilt if a loved one becomes gravely ill? Will we beat ourselves up and say “it wasn’t worth it?”

We cannot know for certain the best and rightest choices to make. Because we don’t have enough good and trustworthy and “for sure” facts. We just don’t.

I think the length of time we have been in such turmoil has exhausted us. There is no real, for sure, end in sight and that exhausts us. Isolation and separation exhausts us when we don’t now for real and certain that it is absolutely necessary.

Do we hunker down for a year? Stay in our own little houses, seeing no one? For another year or more?

Do we do our own grocery shopping, masked up, fearfully watching everyone to be certain we are a full six feet apart? Quickly darting around a corner if they come too close? We come home exhausted and afraid.

Or do we live our ordinary lives with some cautions in place? Some that are not too invasive, too stealing away of joy? But some that still afford us some level of protection?

Do we cancel Family Holiday Gathering to be safe for certain or do we draw together with some wise cautions in place so that our hearts can be full? And what cautions are those?

We want to know for certain that we are making the right wise and good choices. We don’t want to be wrong about this because the price we will pay for that wrongness may be very high.

We want control and certainty and no matter what we do we can’t have it. Can’t get it no matter how much news we listen to. No matter how many web sites we follow. We fear they have their own agendas and we don’t trust them beyond the few hours after we’ve listened to them – them, the experts. Because they really don’t know either.

So how can we not be at unrest, doubting everyone, second guessing ourselves, trusting no one? How can we not?

I have decided to be at peace with my unrest. I will just have to sit with it because I can’t make it go away. I have tried to find peace in all this about family holidays and I just can’t. But then, how could I? How could any of us?

But there are some things I know for sure.

I will stop berating myself for being unrestful.

I will not give up being with family. Not sure what that can look like for the holidays, but in my gut it just feels wrong for me to cancel Thanksgiving and Christmas at my house with my grown children, my grandchildren, and my great-grandchildren. That feels wrong to me.

I will take some precautions to keep us all safe and then I will stop being afraid.

Can I stop feeling unrestful about this? Can I stop doubting my decisions? Probably not.

But I can accept that this is the world right now. A world in upheaval. A world in which I have no control.

But I will be ok! 

To Write or Not? (When I don’t feel like it)

Only way out of the dark cave is to crawl on one’s belly, army style, exerting all one’s strength to push  forward. This is me, finally exiting Wolf Cave, McCormick Creek State Park, Indiana,  June 2020

First, a bit of clarification might be useful about my article on the strength of my Aunt Marian. I certainly am not implying that any woman must stay with a drunk or abusive husband. I do not admire her because she did that. I have no idea how she decided that she would not kick him out. Whether she loved him in some unhealthy way, or that the circumstances of 1930-1945, the circumstances of Poverty, of The Great Depression, of WW2, made it impossible to leave. Or whether it was the culture of the day, the days of women having few economic choices. I don’t know.

What I do applaud her for is not the choice she made, but that she lived out her desperate circumstances without becoming a victim and without becoming a negative, complainy, crabby person. I do know she was embarrassed and angry sometimes, because on occasion,  when the police called to tell her he was laying drunk somewhere, that she could come to get him…I do know that she sometimes said, “Aww, you guys can keep him till he sobers up.”  And I do know that on some occasions when he  lay drunk on her floor in the dining room, she took his picture to show him how disgusting he looked. And I do know that once she cut off his tie (yes, he usually wore a suit and tie to the tavern!)  while he was passed out so that he’d wonder how that happened. I don’t think she ever did tell him and he wondered about it all the rest of his life.

Telling these stories, I don’t know how she did it, but they were funny and she snickered a little. She told them in a way that said “Oh, listen to the funny think I did.”  Never, in all my years of knowing her, did I ever find an angry, pitiful, vengeful, or mean tone to her voice or look on her face.  Her eyes sparkled. She always seemed proud of herself. She always seemed to be having fun every day no matter what was happening.  

I want to be that strong and cheerful.  Until I was almost thirty, I was not. Life had dealt me numerous devastating blows and I was reduced to feeling helpless, self-pitying and manipulative. I lashed out at the world with a vengeance.  Until I didn’t. Until I climbed out of that hole.

For almost 50 years now, I have been that strong “Aunt Marian”. Life was not easy, but I did not wallow or dive into misery.  I jokingly told people, “Well, I guess I have 3 choices…I can be depressed,  I can be on drugs, or I can be happy. I think I’ll choose happy!”

I have been a real “pull myself up by my bootstraps” kind of person, pursuing joy and life no matter what. Sure I complained sometimes, got crabby often, but I didn’t stay there. I always found joy in the positive things I did have. I loved my life, hassles and all!

But I can’t seem to get there now, and that’s probably why I started remembering my Auntie stories.  I’m not depressed (I don’t think), and I don’t pity myself, and I’m not complaining.  But there is something about this pandemic that has thrown me.  I’ll be 77 the end of July and have high blood pressure, so I’m careful about where I go and who I am around.  My choice of activities is limited. My freedom to be spontaneous is limited. I’m tired all the time, which is not like me…a sporty, peppy person.  I feel like I’ve lost part of me.

On the surface I am ok, doing a really good job keeping positive and cheerful and busy. But there is a river running underneath that has robbed me of inspiration and motivation.  I keep motivated because it’s the right thing to do, but I don’t feel it, and that’s new for me.

Goodness knows, I’ve battled and overcome way worse. I have tattoos to celebrate my victories. And I will find the light at the end of this tunnel. And sport a new tattoo to declare it!

But I’m thinking maybe all of us are overwhelmed with trying to figure out what life is all about now – again. And maybe what we need is some good stories. Some fun times.  I’m a pretty introspective person and tend to write pretty serious articles, and maybe now is not the time for that. Maybe I’m just gonna write more funny Aunt Marian stories, and about my Aunt Glada and Aunt Helen, too. And stories of some fun things I’m doing or finding someplace. I need some good stories and some silly fun activities. Some fun, pointless activities.

I’m gonna do that and stop trying to figure all this out. Understanding  and figuring can take a break for a while. 

Only way out of the dark cave is to crawl on one’s belly, army style, exerting all one’s strength to push  forward.

This Was My Aunt Marion

In my last article I promised to write short bios of the strong ladies in my family, the history I have listening and observing them as I grew up: here’s the first.

This was my Aunt Marian. We always called her that. Never simply ‘Marian’. Had to be ‘Aunt’. It was that way in my mother’s family. Always ‘aunt’ or ‘uncle’ before their given name. It was respect.
Marian Lullabell, born in 1905. It’s sort of a funny middle name. It suited her though, as she was my funniest aunt. My heart laughs a little every time I remember her.
She was the second child in a family of six. Even though the Great Depression hadn’t hit the country, she still grew up in real poverty. I’m not sure why. Stories abound about my grandfather’s poor heart, but those get mixed in with the Depression, and as none of them are alive now, there’s no one to ask. Wouldn’t matter. When they were alive they all had different stories to tell and bantered back and forth with each other as to whose version was the “truth”.
At any rate, the young girl Marian grew up really, really, poor. There were no frivolities to be had. One year she wanted so much to go to a costume party, but knew there was no money for a costume. Not to be thwarted, she got creative. Made her outfit from old newspapers, tearing them into strips to create the dress she is wearing in this picture. She won first prize!
And then…when she was about 19 or 20 she met Bill. He had a good job, “with the railroad”. That was a big deal in those days. An enviable job.
Christmas 1905 he gave her a diamond ring and they planned a spring wedding. Bought the house next to his parents in South Whitley. But, really! A diamond ring! And a house! And a good job with “the railroad”. Life was perfect, full of promises!
More perfect with their first baby, still good with the second baby. It was 1930 then, one year into the Depression. They didn’t feel it too much in their little town of barely 1000 people, not yet.
And then they did. The railroad laid off almost everyone. Bill was home, no job, no money.
Searching for another was pointless, fruitless. No one had a job, no one was hiring, everyone stood in long lines for government food and anything else welfare could offer. This proud man, who just a few years before had put a real diamond ring on his girl’s finger, now was a welfare man, on “the government”. Hours every day with nothing to do and nowhere to go.

Except the one place in town all the men gathered. The tavern. Every night they swaggered
home feeling really good and important.
I don’t know how she did it, but Marian kept her little family warm, fed.
The Depression ended many years later. The drinking didn’t. Bill lived until the 1980s and, to my knowledge was never sober one day.
This is not meant to be a story about Bill. But of my Aunt Marian, who married a dashing young man, full of promise, full of the future. A man who gave her a diamond ring. My Aunt Marian, a young girl whom I imagine was full of hope and carried dreams with her to bed every night. A girl who married her knight.
I cannot imagine the heartache, the death of those dreams. To be married to a man who was not sober for somewhere between 40-50 years. It never ended. Did she wonder often if it would change? I think so, cause she often told stories with humor, stories of the times she didn’t let Bill in the house, of once when she left him passed out on the floor, cut off his tie, and then took his picture! To show to him in the morning. Maybe she thought he might wake up and change. He never did. I never heard her complain. She approached life with an enviable nonchalance.
Kept her house and her family intact. Kept herself intact. Served Sunday dinner every week to the bigger brother-and-sister families, around her large dining room table. If she was
embarrassed by Bill, I never knew. It never showed.
What amazes me, is how she could be so cheerful all those years. How she could tell those
funny stories. They weren’t funny, really, just the way she told them made them seem so.
My Aunt Marian. This was her life: growing up in poverty, losing dreams, making do, loving,
laughing, serving. Because somewhere, sometime in her life she must have decided to see life from that perspective. She chose to be cheerful. I want to be like my Aunt Marian!

Crisis

We think we live in a time of crisis and maybe we do. But we’re not the first. Americans have
been here before. Not exactly like this, but we have been afraid before.
We’ve faced unknown futures, unknown tomorrows. But we survived. I don’t know how we
did, but we found joy in our days and we moved on.
In every crisis of the past, American women carved some kind of fulfillment out of the days and weeks and years. They lay their heads on their pillows each night without wine or TV or cell phones with Facebook or games to distract and comfort them. And they declared the day to be good. And wondered what crisis the next day would bring and if they could do it all over again.
And again. And they knew they would.
They did not say, “I am strong!” They just were.
They did not say, “I can do this!” They just got out of bed every day and did it.
I am from a family of strong women. They stared poverty in the face and made each day worth living. They made little parties in their living rooms during the Great Depression. They watched their men get on buses and trains, off to army camps. Not knowing if those men would ever come home to sit at the kitchen table to have coffee with them again. That was WW2.
In the next few weeks I will give to you a few stories, short bios of these women. The stories I heard growing up. Stories told of “the way it was”. Just the way it was. As a young girl, I loved sitting around with my elderly aunts as they reminisced about their younger days.
I had to pay attention, to sift through their laughter to find the underneath story, to hear of
hunger, of poverty, of absent husbands, of drunken husbands.
I wanted to be like those women. These older ladies with their shiny silver hair and sparkly
eyes. Never a frown. Never complaining. Holding families together.
How did they do it? I’m not sure. But they stuck together, not just my aunties, but all women.
They never heard of ‘community.’ But they had it! They really had it!
Not sure where I’m going with this, but am compelled to tell their stories.
Maybe we can put them all together and become problem solvers, not complainers.
Maybe we can find joy in living life well in the midst of sacrifice.
Maybe we can do this in the midst of crisis, whatever that crisis may look like to us.
Because in my own almost 77 years of life I’ve found that there will always be crisis. After this one, there will be another.
So it’s not about the crisis, it’s about me! About how I meet the challenge of crisis with my soul (and my humor) intact.

When I was 21

When I was 21…oh, forget my 20s…I was a mess!

When I was 31 I was raising my children, learning to cook and make a home. Things I knew nothing about!  So I read books (a ton of books!) and talked to older and wiser women to see how they did life. I followed directions and plans, keeping everything in order. Kept my life in order. Pursued a spiritual connection through order and obedience with only a little fun thrown in. Very little fun. I played well with my own children. I didn’t know how to play by myself. My dream was to form a wonderful, secure family that loved and treasured me as much as I did them.

When I was 41 I found the part of me that did not need to fit in with others and be like them, follow their plan for order. I grew an antenna for when things weren’t right and I wanted to fix them – and me. I didn’t know how to do that, exactly, so I pursued self-help books, took classes, and began writing – a lot! I wasn’t comfortable speaking out, but I did do it. I did it quietly and gently so as not to ruffle any feathers. My dream was to make an impact for good and righteousness wherever I was.

When I was 51 My children were grown, my job became full-time helping people. I studied patterns of behavior and charted what I learned. I developed a love for taking huge amounts of material and condensing it down into something easy to teach and remember. I began to love word pictures. And my dream was to pass on what I had learned, pass it on for others to learn.

When I was 61 I had survived a year-long life-threatening illness that changed the direction of my life. I began to question not what I could accomplish but what I really wanted. And I found that I had no idea! I began exploring my world and embarked on a quest to try a bunch of new things and see if I liked them. I found many I didn’t and I had to quit. Remarkably, I didn’t feel guilty about quitting anything I’d volunteered for. These were years of exploration. I wanted to find where I could be useful because I loved it, not because I was needed. My dream was to help others find their happiness without giving up my own. 

In my 70s I began to lose friends and family. Some by their choice, some by my own. And one by an early death. Now I not only wanted to find how I wanted to live the rest of my life, I needed to find peace within my own self – even in the midst of everyone else’s chaos (or even my own). My dream was to be really happy with my own self, even when other people weren’t happy their selves or with me. 

It’s good I think, to take stock of ourselves, of our lives every now and then. The thing is, I think too often the looking back is discouraging because we haven’t accomplished what we thought we could. Looking back can feel like defeat.

But it’s not! Each stage of our lives, each dream that we’ve had, builds our character, teaches us things, enlightens us, moves us forward into areas we could never have gone without the preceding years and dreams. We have to try stuff in order to learn and move forward. It’s not a waste if it didn’t turn out the way we wanted. 

My early years of devoting myself to building a home taught me the value of order. They also  brought to me the security I had longed for my entire life, so that I could move forward. 

The next years of becoming aware when something “wasn’t right” helped me to stop blaming myself for everything. These years helped me to have a voice of my own.  I became confident.

From those years, I found my love of putting words to my thoughts, of finding ways to say things in a way that maybe could encourage others. I found a talent.

Those years helped me wade through the year of illness that cost me my health, my job, my church, and many of my friends.  I survived it without being bitter or angry, although I was devastated and incredibly sad and did grieve the losses. But I also became strong.

And now, as I approach 77, I value my whole life and each of those past stages. I know that, although most of my dreams didn’t come true, that wasn’t the point. I can have dreams, chase them even. But when a dream becomes a roadblock to the present and future, keeping me from new things, when I’m stuck…then I have to know it is time to give up the dream. Because some dreams were meant to only move us forward, to prepare us for the next years coming. It’s not about “success”, it’s about growing.

Finally, I get it. “Being” is more important to me that “doing”, something I never understood. Something I rallied against!

Now I want to live each year to the fullest, playing, laughing, reading, serving, giving, sacrificing, changing… things I can be happy doing.  And loving, above all loving!  

Menagerie

MY MENAGERIE!

A child I must still be.

I have stuffed animals on my bed. Lots of stuffed animals!

It started with big curly-haired lamb on the clearance shelf at Kroger the week after Easter.

White he was, huge black eyes staring at me. 

Pitiful eyes they were, lonely.

That lamb, begging to be taken home. So I did!

Set him on my bed. Between four white pillows and 3 big, white, fluffy, down comforters.

He belonged there, made the room. Made me smile.

I saw the monkey next, tossed across a basket at Pier 1. Long skinny arms and legs.

Legs with huge oversized feet, puffy feet. Out of proportion they were!

He was cheerful apple green – lime mixed. Funny face.

Easy to pose, those floppy arms and legs to express myself.  

Stretched out, limbs flung wide if I was tired. One long arm resting on Lamb if I was especially friendly that day.  

One by one they came. Small grey bunny, ears reaching to his feet.

Then another floppy one, polar bear, just because he had soft white fur and I could pose him too.

In November my menagerie declared themselves done with the bed. Led astray they were by the new large, very large, baby elephant sitting under our bedroom  Christmas tree. 

And I’ve learned a thing! These stuffed animals.  They have a gift to make humans laugh. Or smile. Giggle even.  One just can’t be crabby looking at them.

They just sit there, do nothing. Nothing at all except being what they were made to be.

Stuffed animals on a bed striking crazy poses. Expressing how their people feel.

That’s their job and they do it well.  My menagerie.

Made me ponder my own  “being” job. Aside from doing. Just being.

Could we over-thinking humans wear joy and acceptance on our faces? On our selves? 

Our very presence lighting  up a room? I’m thinking it starts here. Before we speak. Or do.  

Maybe our real job is to have hearts full of joy. Free of performing. People smile just looking at us!

I want to be that person, that person who brings a smile to someone’s heart when they walk into a room and see me!   I want to see them smile before I say or do anything. That’s what the Green Monkey taught me!

Decluttering

September 25, 2018

Skittering, shuffling, scampering, out of breath I am.

Books and papers and recipes,

photos and letters and souvenirs.

Memorabilia.

Spilling over. Cramped and crowded I am,

this stuff of forty years, tucked away, stored, forgotten.

I have become not the boss of my house.

Declutter I must!

Out with forgotten books we haven’t read in ten years.

But not this one, this one I read as a new mom.

Out with these receipts, yellowed with age, hard to read.

But not this one, Jonathan’s first ten-speed bike.

These recipes can go, how did there get to be so many?

But I’ll keep these with my pencil notes at the bottom,

when I was only just learning to cook,

learning to be a mom, learning to be a wife.

But oh, the photos and souvenirs and mementoes!

These boxes hold the history of our lives.

Remember this vacation, how small the boys were then?

Broken arms, first days at school, proud drawings.

And then I find it, fallen here to the bottom of the box,

the necklaces from the neighbor’s rummage sale.

Bought with my sons’ own dimes and nickles,

laid on my plate at supper to surprise me.

I lift them from the box and hold them to my chest.

And I know, this stuff, all this stuff

is not just junk as I thought,

no, never junk!

Each thing a gift to carry us back through days and years

and weeks of our lives together, reminding us

of babies born, of birthdays and anniversaries,

of illness and healing.

Of jobs lost, and companies on strike.

Of new cars, and bunk beds, and vacations.

Of children grown and leaving.

And of deaths.

I save out these few things, ones that warm my heart.

And back they go, into their box, onto the shelf.

One shelf for them now. Not ten.

Nine shelves left, empty, open, waiting.

I will fill them again, soon.

With memories of today, of this year, and next.

With mementoes of my new adventures,

now that I am 75!

Fall

October 1, 2018

I have an awesome view out my back window. Yard and garden beds. Flowers and butterflies. And woods. With trees, lots of them.

They are thinking of changing color and dropping their leaves. Not doing it yet, just getting ready to. They phase into it, this dying, a little at a time. Not all at once, suddenly. But slowly.

Kinda like me. No, I’m not about to die, I don’t mean that! But certain seasons of my life are dying and I don’t like that. I cling to the old, cherishing it, reliving it.

That gets to be pretty hard work, maintaining a familiar old lifestyle, while living in the new, the now. The now of retired husband at home. The now of family grown up, gone with their active lives. And me. The me who now loves afternoon naps. And needs quiet times. It’s not just everything else changing, I’m changing too

So, I’m thinking about those trees. How if they were afraid to give up this season’s leaves, what would happen. I get this silly picture of them clutching their leaves, frantic to keep what they have. What if they could? What if they could keep those old leaves all winter? What would that be like?

They’d stay green-leafed, of course. That would be nice. But what about spring’s leaves? The next-coming season. Would they wither and die because there’s no room for them? Or would they push forth anyway and make the tree be ugly and crowded. And light surely couldn’t reach all those bunched-up leaves, so they’d just be small and ordinary and be, well, just “there”.

Silly pictures, I know, come to me as I sit with my tea and ponder.

So I think, I’m not going to clutch onto one beautiful season. I’ll find beauty in letting go. Most leaves turn an awesome color and burst forth in vibrancy, displaying for all to see that they are ending one season. Dying. They seem proud, I’m thinking. I can do that too.

I’ll take time to let the old just pass by slowly, as it should. I’ll not rush it, but enjoy each day/ leaf as it passes. This time of changing will not just be about dying, giving up, grieving. I will make it about restoring and feeding my soul so that I am ready for the new.

So that my next season will be full of beauty and love and excitement and adventure and learning and loving.

Easier to write about than do, I know. I think I’ll take a walk in my woods and pick up some fallen brown leaves. I’ll paste them in a little blank book, and label what I’m letting go of.

I’ll gather another leaf later, one that is just changing color and write about how my life is different now, how I am changing in my heart/ soul.

And later still, I’ll take a picture of some that are hanging on, not yet fallen, and past that in my book and fess up to the things that I just don’t want to let go of.

And then I will close the book, give it a pat. Stand up and embrace this fall season of my life. I will burst forth into vibrant color! Into the gloriousness of letting go!

Diversity

October 7, 2018

I am often taken with a few key words everybody’s using. A fan of words, I’m always interested in what people mean when they use a certain term. Does it mean to them what it means to me? Are they using that word because its popular right now and if asked to define it, they’d have a hard time? I wonder often about words.

Like “diversity”. Often used. Paired with “racial”. Maybe with “sexual” or “religious”. Stops there.

So here’s a little free verse thing I wrote one day, while pondering people like myself. Us who are outside the Big Three!

Diversity, diversity! all day long I hear the word,

Diversity!

Accept people of another color, of another faith,

Make no note of sexual differences,

Find value in everyone.

Celebrate them for all to see.

Be proud!

But what about me?

Does your diversity include me,

White woman, 75 years old,

now on the fringe of younger populations?

Can you value me

and celebrate age for all to see,

or does my grey hair tell you not to bother?

Does my wrinkly skin turn you away ,

tell you I have nothing of value anymore?

And not to be proud!

But what about me?

Does your diversity include me,

A person who’s not good at small talk?

Likes relevant discussions with a few

instead of the expected crowd?

Can you value me, and look for me,

Or does my awkwardness tell you not to bother?

Does my quietness turn you away?

Trendy diversity is proud to look beyond skin color.

True diversity does not define itself…..it just IS.

Doesn’t need to look beyond differences

doesn’t see differences…

Sees people and stories and wisdom

and history and lessons to learn.

True diversity is humble,

Loves and values and respects

in an instant – without being told.

It is real

and doesn’t shout itself from rooftops.

It just IS!

That’s a bit heavy, so just for fun, here’s a super recipe I tried this week. I love to cook, and I love to try new things, so I’m all about squashes now. Always been a fan of zucchini, but I stopped there. Until I found a few I had to try because the pictures looked awesome. I promise you’ll love this, and you don’t even have to pre-bake the squash…just don’t feel you have to say what it is!

Butternut Squash Baked Pasta oven to 350, serves 4

saute till golden and soft: 4 Tbsp. olive oil and 1 lg. fine chop onion

then add, cook to fragrant: 3 thin slice garlic cloves and 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes

add, toss to combine: peeled, 1/4″ pieces butternut squash, about 6 cups

then add, bring to boil: 4 c. chicken or beef broth

Reduce heat and simmer till squash is tender, then set aside to cool slightly.

Process till smooth, adding: 1 c. parmesan cheese

mix with 1 lb. cooked pasta, like rigatoni or bowtie, etc.

Pour into approximate 9×13 baking dish and top with handfuls of dried bread crumbs.

Add about 1 c. torn fresh basil leaves, sprinkle on some more parm, and bake till toasty and bubbly, about 15-20 minutes. (from BonAppetit)

So amazingly yummy. I overate!

See ya’ next week!

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