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!

DOING IT ALL!

October 15, 2018

Last week I was overwhelmed, over committed, and crabby. Its been a crazy busy summer. We’ve traveled a lot, bought a property, tore down a house, and hosted a wedding, among other things I can’t even remember. And of course, all the disagreements that come along with.

So about a month ago I decided to put some fun into my life, and I picked out some things and enthusiastically signed myself up for them. And now I am way over committed! Me, a person who needs a lot of alone, quiet, reflective time!

I signed up for the Master Gardner class through Purdue. A friend had a blast when she did it and I wanted to have a blast too, so I signed up. But my class is different from hers and I have tons of studying and a huge, humongous textbook about 8 inches thick. The class lasts till the middle of December and then we take a test. A test! To be a Master Gardner and do all their fun stuff, I have to pass a test! On all this 8 inches tall stack of technical stuff. Not my fun thing. I started freaking out about the test. A few ladies in my class said, “Me, I’m not taking the test. I’m just here to learn about my own gardens.” “Wow,” I thought, “that’s good”. But I couldn’t stop thinking about the test! I HAVE to pass that test!

I also had agreed to teach a class at a half-way house, a class about anger. I’ve taught that a hundred times, to a hundred different kinds of people, but like to tweak it for each group. I found myself now taking two days each week just to get prepped. It had to be stellar! Just what they needed! Perfect!

Then there are the other things that already filled my week. Things I love doing. There was nothing to give up. I want to do it all!

I want to take naps and cut flowers from my garden and read books and play games with my grandchildren, have lunch with my daughters-in-law. Visit my mom in her nursing home, cook yummy stuff and have long walks with my husband.

But – I must do all my homework each week and have a perfect-score Master Gardner test in December!

But – I must be an amazingly gifted teacher each week for the half-way house!

But – I must wow all of you with my Monday articles on my web page!

All last week I was crabby. Tried to be happy in the midst of this chaos, just couldn’t.

And, come Friday morning I was going out of town with a girlfriend for 2 days and I knew I couldn’t afford the time. And…I had to pack!

So I didn’t pack, I threw my jammies in my ever-ready overnight bag and decided to just wear the same clothes both days. Too tired to care. Woke up at 4:30am stressed about what studying I wouldn’t get done.

Met my friend at her house. She drove her big comfy SUV, so I just sat back to be a passenger and not be in charge of anything. And spilled out my crabbies and frustrations for an hour. Promised I wouldn’t do it all day. One hour only. And then I stopped.

I could stop because she was my wonderful old long term friend who knew me well. She got off the main highways and drove the country roads on our way to Saugatuck, Michigan. I love country roads. One can’t be crabby while looking at trees and farms and passing through towns with lovely old houses. One just can’t.

We stopped for lunch at Firehouse in Douglas. Oh! It was so my kind of place! Yummiest homemade soup. With tasting samples. A chili made with shreds of roast beef instead of ground beef. A butternut squash soup perfectly seasoned. And the sandwiches were so amazing I actually ate my entire one.

We spent hours browsing the shops in Saugatuck, wandering through things we’d never seen, stuff we’d never buy but loved the creativity of it. We laughed and teased each other and remembered all the other trips we’d taken together. We found a restaurant overlooking the lake and ate expensive fish dinners.

We stayed overnight in a Best Western motel with a beautiful room. Curled up in our jammies, each in our own bed. We stretched out, watched Law and Order and crocheted blankets we were each working on.

And I became heavy with sleep, listening to this friend talk about her family and her job and just her ordinary stuff. My body relaxed, my brain stopped fixating on stuff. My friend of twenty years.

My friend to be comfortable with and not be perfect for. A friend who will let me wear my jammies to the breakfast buffet. A friend who will wear hers too.

My friend who’s part of my history. We’ve seen each other through deaths and illnesses and betrayals.

But we also have a history of travel and playing together. We hadn’t done that in a long time.

This weekend I discovered a new truth. When one is stressed with one’s life, when one is over committed, take a break. Not a little break. A long break. A break away with a long time trusted friend who expects nothing from you but your presence.

These days it is easy to keep up friendships through social media and I do love that a lot.

But there’s nothing like spending some good time with an old friend to refresh and nourish a tattered soul.

Today I was able to think clearly about my priorities and decide that I don’t have to pass the Master Gardner test. I want to be like those ladies who are having fun and just want to learn about their own gardens, and so I shall.

I’m going to enjoy the girls in my half-way class because, after all, the greatest gift I can give them is my joy overflowing. That drug addicts do recover long term, that my 50 years of being clean and happy can give them hope.

Today I wore a pretty dress and picked flowers from my garden, and drank blueberry tea. And I am not crabby anymore!

PS: I bought these little giraffe people in a shop that sells stuff made by villagers in Africa.

THE LOG

October 22, 2018

Awhile back my husband and I had a fight, sort of. We like to build fires in our fire pit, sit on the benches and have coffee some chilly mornings. He collects old logs and cuts up wood so that we always have a ready supply. One of his fave things.

Off to the side, not next to his wood saves, was an old chunk of log, a leftover piece from sometime long ago. It struck my imagination every time I walked past it and I just knew there was something interesting I’d do with it someday. Someday. But it’d been there for years.

So, on one particular morning I, in my woolly robe, over sized slippers, coffee and journal in hand, join him around the fire, only to see The Log in the fire. It quickly becomes My Log, then My Favorite Log. The Something I was saving for the Great Thing I was going to do with it! It’s importance to me grew with each moment I expressed my shock. Well, expressed my mad.

His only response was, “What! What’s the big deal? That thing’s been sitting there for years.” He did pull it out of the fire, though.

Well, I liked that log and couldn’t seem to get over the hump of being shocked, hurt, and angry.

Fussing and fuming wasn’t helping me, even hours later. I needed to redeem this and refocus . Tell myself a new story.

I sat with paper and pen and pondered why I liked that stupid old log anyway. Maybe I should write a bit of free verse. Here it is.

THE LOG

Why do I like you?

Just a chuck of old wood,

once a tree, now nothing.

Knobby, chopped up parts

sticking out, jutting,

ugly.

Why do I like you?

You are like no other.

Once a tree, gracing my yard,

beautiful.

Then old, then discarded.

Arms and legs firewood

till there was only you,

your core.

No taller than my knees.

Falling bark, wrinkled skin.

No longer tall, proud, powerful.

Some call you ugly, useless,

never beautiful again.

Here – sit there now, hold these flowers

and let the rawness of you –

present the beauty of them.

And reading my poem made me laugh and I was happy again.

Creating something new can chase away our crabbies and show us beauty again and we can laugh even at ourselves.

TWO THINGS: MY ADVENTURE and CATCHING UP

October 28, 2018

Last year about this time, I decided to rent a cabin at a state park and go there for several days to be alone and think through some things that were troubling me deeply.

At home I am easily distracted, so going someplace where there were no household chores and no TV seemed like a good place to start.

It was wonderful and terrible at the same time! Terrible because I got so absolutely bored to death I could scream. And wonderful because I found a creative side of me that went beyond what I was already doing! Terrible because I had no phone and no internet and couldn’t send pictures or texts to anyone to show off what I was doing. Yet wonderful because I learned the joy of experiencing something just for myself alone! Terrible because I got lost on trails, wondered what would happen if I fell, and once feared I wouldn’t get back to the cabin before the moon came out! Then wonderful when I found the right trail and saw my cabin before dark! I had only a wood burning stove for heat and kept the fire going day and night and was pretty proud of myself for that!

The really terrible part was being afraid at night. With no phone, no other cabin renters around, no people anywhere, my lamp the only one for a mile…it was pretty scary. If someone came on my porch and knocked I certainly couldn’t open the door even if they said they were the police. I thought about someone breaking in. What would happen if they did? I guess I’d be dead pretty quickly and it would all be over and I wouldn’t be scared anymore. So why waste time being scared when there’s nothing I can do about it, I wondered? It was still scary after that, but not as bad.

I came home feeling so victorious! I found some strength I had forgotten I had and I kept saying to my own self, “I did it!!”

So I’m off this week to do it again. No deep thoughts I’m needing to work through this time. I’m just hoping to explore new creative places of me, places I haven’t gone. I’ve never painted on a canvas, so I’m going to do that. I’m not artistic in that way at all, and even when I draw or color it’s a stretch for me. Not my talent, so it requires a level of concentration that is almost like meditating. Maybe I’ll get some Sculpy and mold and carve some things. Challenges! I want to challenge myself on dangerous trails and on paper. Gulp!

CATCHING UP:

On October 1st, my article was about learning something as I watched the trees let go of their leaves. I said I would gather a few and paste them in a little book and label them for stuff I was letting go of. (1st of 3 leaf to-dos)

Here they are: The first page is pictured above, but the next two pages had four leaves. one for the dishes I have to give away cause I have way too many, another for books spilling over everywhere. One for mementos that I can’t remember what for, and the last for the bazillion recipes I haven’t made but save just in case.

How are you doing? If you want to share your ideas with me or ask a question, or comment – use the contact tab on the bottom. I respond to everything!

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