Wednesday, December 31, 2008

It Will Be A New Year

The card my mother sent this Christmas has a saying by Rainer Maria Rilke on the front:
And now let us welcome the new year,
full of things that have never been.

I like the way that sounds. I am taking that as my tactic to start 2009. I will welcome things that have never been...

while I let go of things that have been and are gone by. There are no do-overs. I can't go back.

Two weeks ago I used the word reconciled to describe how I feel about some of the decisions I have made in the last three years. What's done is done. The word reconcile means to bring harmony and that is the perfect description of what I want ~ to bring harmony into my life.

There will be no room for things that have never been and harmony unless I finish the process of letting go of regrets, old habits, and stories that no longer define me. I may not get a do-over, but I can begin anew. Then anything is possible.

Happy New Year everyone.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Sometimes A Hug Is Enough

I have a friend who is going through a tough time. I don't know the details because I haven't asked.

Two weeks ago I received her Christmas card. She shared that life had been difficult but that things had taken a turn for the better. I gave her a call a week later to see if we could plan to get together. Things had taken a turn for the worse and she was in no condition to talk. She asked me to call her back after Christmas.

Today I was on my way home after hours of errands. Something told me to give my friend a call. I asked if I could stop by to give her a hug, and she said that would be okay.

She walked across her kitchen to meet me. I didn't plan to stay, then she made me a cup of tea. When I asked what was going on with her, tears filled her eyes. We quickly moved to talk of other topics. We shared thoughts about things that mattered today and laughed about things that were funny.

It may be weeks or months before I see her again. I may never know the extent of the pain she is feeling. Many years ago she was there for me when there was no way she could understand the depth of my sadness. I just needed to know she was there for me, just as I am there for her now. Sometimes a hug is enough. Sometimes it's all we have to offer.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas Present

Our tree for Christmas 2008 ~


We brought the tree into the house a few days before Christmas. The next day I strung the lights, and the following day Ken and I hung our favorite ornaments. Later, our son T added his favorites. When I told my daughter about the stages, she said oh, it's a progressive tree.

Our family has always waited until just days before Christmas to decorate a tree. Since I rearrange rooms from year to year, the tree doesn't always sit in the same place. In our old house, the addition of a tree to our living space always required that furniture be moved and space be made. We enjoy the tree until after New Year's.

Decorating the tree used to be a family event. My children each have a collection of ornaments that started when they were babies. We also have family ornaments that Ken and I have collected since we started dating. It was fun to remember where they came from and joke about the different ways we've decorated trees over the years. In recent years we would wait for children to get home from college to decorate the tree.

That was Christmas Past. Now Ken and I decorate the tree when we are ready. Schedules are different and subject to change, so our children can choose to add ornaments when they get home.

Progressive tree decorating is symbolic of Christmas Present. Our family with grown children celebrates with new traditions. Gone are the days of Santa and school vacation. Now we shop thoughtfully for each other and relish whatever time we have together.

Like everything else in our family, holiday celebrations are changing. Like everything else in my life, I need to ride out the transition to adapt to something new.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve

Saturday evening Ken and I watched the movie The Family Man, which stars Nicholas Cage and Tea Leoni. It has become a holiday classic for us. Similar to It's a Wonderful Life, the premise is the question "what if life was different." The setting is New York City on Christmas Eve, and Cage's character, Jack, is a high-powered executive. Courtesy of an angel, played by Don Cheadle, Jack gets a chance to see the life he could have had if he had made a different decision 13 years earlier. In Jack's dreamlife he is married to Kate, Leoni's character. There is humor, romance, cute kids, and the realization that decisions have consequences.

There are certain scenes that will always be funny. There are sentimental moments that touch me every time.

It's a fantasy that any of us can ever know what might have been. One decision leads to another which shapes the next...and so on. That is how a life is constructed. Any change along the way would result in the creation of a different life.

Christmas Eve represents a time of decisions and events that have shaped my life ~ faith, love, birth, and death. The day holds memories of ultimate joy and deepest sadness.

In the movies, Christmas Eve provides the perfect setting for looking back and dreaming beyond. Historically, it is a time for perfect love and great miracles. Realistically, Christmas Eve is a time for reflection, gratitude, and hope.

May all of us find peace this Christmas Eve. God bless us everyone.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Welcome Winter


The thermometer reads 14 degrees. Snow on every surface, there's a lot of clearing out to do.

With the skill of a sculptor Ken will carve out the driveway and walkways. His tools - the snow blower, shovel, and broom. He took this week off work, so there is plenty of time for such winter chores. We spent yesterday watching the storm from inside, grateful we had no other place to be. We brought the tree in last night, and it stands ready for decoration.

We have goodies to eat and ingredients ready to make more. I went to a cookie swap last week, so there are different treats to taste as well.

I learned long ago to slow down at this time of year. It takes special focus for me to stay present. It takes little effort for me to feel grateful.

There are others to remember. My stepfather had a stroke two weeks ago. My elderly friend in town slipped on ice a week ago and broke her ankle. I have more than one friend with a child in trouble.

Today I have Christmas cards to get in the mail. There will be no letter included. Some years a simple greeting is best, and this is one of those years.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

No Signal

No digital signal to either television. The networks ran another test during tonight's local news to show viewers if their television is "digital ready." No luck. I will make another call tomorrow to ask about what we do now...aside from installing satellite, which is an easy option when I win the lottery.

No job offer from my most recent interview. I got the letter today, which means it arrived in yesterday's mail, which I didn't pick up until today. The letter was dated Monday. That didn't take long. Disappointment. Embarrassment.

No more job updates. I thought if I shared my job search it would make me feel better. It has helped to have support from family, friends, and readers. It hasn't helped to repeatedly relay the disappointing news that I didn't get a job I wanted.

No idea what comes next. Oh, I have plenty to do. I always have something to do ~ that has never been a problem for me. I finish up one round of projects to be ready to take a job, only to start another round when I don't get an offer. What else do I need to do to be ready to go back to work? I'm missing something.

No signal received. Just static.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Monday Melting

We never lost power. Twenty miles south of us 37,000 have had no electricity for days, and 20 miles north of us homes and businesses have lost power for hours at a time. Other than a few small limbs down, we escaped unscathed.

I honored our good fortune with good old-fashioned domesticity. On Saturday I reorganized the closet in the family room to make room for various items and containers that have never had a permanent home. I made a space for the vacuum cleaner, that has roamed from room to room since we moved, and my new full-sized ironing board, because the table-top version I bought when we moved is just not working for me.

Saturday night I made crab cakes for dinner and oatmeal raisin cookies for dessert. I baked peanut butter cookies on Sunday and tried a new recipe for chicken and sausage cassoulet for dinner, which passed with flying colors.

The temperatures over the week-end stayed well below freezing, single digits at night, although the sunshine made it seem warmer. On Sunday Ken asked if I wanted to go into town and walk around. I asked if he meant we should bundle up, get into a cold car, and drive 20 miles to a place where the power is still out. He said we could get a cup of coffee. I said I could make coffee.

Monday brought 50 degrees. The water poured off the roof, and the icy coating on the driveway turned to slush, which I managed to shovel off the steepest incline over the course of the afternoon.

Our road looks to be a string of potholes. I haven't been past the driveway since Wednesday, when I had studded snow tires put on my Outback. I've driven the last two winters with all-season tires, and I got the feeling last week that I was pushing my luck. I felt good about my decision when I handed T the keys to my car on Thursday.

Hunkering down is my default position. When in doubt, stay put.

Today I will hit the road again for a haircut and acupuncture. In between I will have coffee with my daughter, who is working nights this week and next. I have other errands to run, but I'm not sure I feel like braving the stores today. I think I will re-enter the fray with caution.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Ice Storm

We still have power, although I don't know why. The trees in our yard are coated with ice. Off and on all day the power went out and then came right back on. Every time I went to the kitchen I filled another container with water - our pump stops working if we lose power.



This storm doesn't begin to compare with the ice storm of January 1998, but for 200,000 people in southern Maine it means they will be without power for two to four days. From the coverage on tv, Maine wasn't as hard hit as New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

Temperatures will drop drastically tonight. Tomorrow and Sunday are predicted to be seasonably warm and sunny. The weather seems to be following the example of Wall Street.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Milestone

My youngest child, T, is twenty-one years old today. I think this means more to me than it does to him. His life will go on pretty much as it has been, except that he can now get into Boston's 21-and-over clubs to see bands and comedians. Oh, and he can drink alcohol if he chooses to do so.

T has always been exposed to opportunities before his time. As an infant he attended school activities because his siblings were students. As a toddler he ran the halls of the school he would someday attend. He was always a step ahead because his sister and brother led the way, which seemed to suit T's easy-going personality. Then he found ways to make each experience his own, which is reflected in the poem I wrote for his senior yearbook: "You are the third of three and one of a kind; You do things your own way and in your own time." These words surrounded a photo of T as a toddler hanging on the railing for the kitchen steps.

What makes today meaningful for me is that I remember how my life changed when I was 21. I got a full-time job that summer and was married that fall. Those changes led to the move to Maine, where my life really started. My children are the essence of how my life changed.

T still has two and a half years of college. Within his program, though, each year he will work in his field July through December, and he may find a job before he graduates. Like his brother, T will probably not return to Maine to live after college because bigger cities offer more job opportunities for engineers. I have known this all along, which is why his last six months of working and living in Maine have meant so much to me. He would have preferred to be in Boston, while I have been grateful to have him home.

I have always held more tightly to T than he wanted. He was an adventuresome child, and he had siblings to keep up with. I was 31 when he was born, which seemed older then than it does now. After I heard the news of the death of a young mother, I remember tearfully praying that I live long enough for T to remember who I was. That prayer has been answered. I have watched my youngest son grow into an intelligent, responsible, personable adult.

This birthday milestone may be marked with more than shepherd's pie and coffee cake - his choices for dinner and dessert. It has started snowing. Schools are closing in anticipation of the sleet and freezing rain predicted for later today. We have a generator, knock wood, that we haven't had to use yet, so we will have limited power if we lose electricity. Nothing says "celebrate your 21st birthday" like an ice storm.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Disheveled Day

I woke up this morning wanting to run a comb through my life, to straighten things out and set them right. Things feel out of place. I like to think that after the last two years I feel more comfortable with randomness and the unknown. Some days yes and some days no.

Two women I know have a handle on what's important right now. Elaine and Anne at WiseWomenCoffeeChat have started a contest to donate to a reader's favorite charity. Go to this Easy as 1-2-3 post and leave a comment with a link to your favorite non-profit charity before December 17. There will be a random drawing for a winner the next day. In addition to $100, they will contribute one dollar for every comment between then and the end of the year. What a great idea in these uncertain times....

Even the weather here is unsettled. Yesterday morning it was 10 degrees at 9:00 a.m. By 10:00 it was snowing, lightly. I had a job interview 43 miles south of here, and I knew to leave plenty of time to get there. Sure enough, the plows were out and the speed limit on the highway was down to 45 mph. Streets were fairly clear until I got into the city, where snow was accumulating and travel was slow. I got there in plenty of time.

The interview went well, I think? I won't know if I'm asked back for a second interview for at least a week.

Early this morning I could hear the wind and rain against my window. The temperatures today will be in the 50's. Yesterday's snow is no more.

As I lay in bed, waking up, second thoughts about the interview came to me: How did I answer the questions? Did the real me come through? Am I ready to jump back into a full-time job? Do I dare hope that I get the job?

Disheveled. That's how life feels right now, and the feeling is likely to continue. More snow is predicted for Thursday night with icing possible, too.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

A Place In The World


It started snowing late last night. Fine crystals of white quietly blanketed the world outside.

I went to bed after midnight but I couldn't sleep. I got up at 1:00 to look outside. The deck had a layer of white, snow still gently falling.

Since I was up, I checked the computer. My daughter had posted for the first time in weeks. She had decided to share her intention to convert to Judaism. I knew, but I didn't realize she was ready for others to know. She knows I'm writing about it now.

For well over a year my daughter has been exploring her options with regard to converting. She has accumulated a small library of books, attended services at temple, and met with the rabbi. She has ahead of her at least another year of study, services, and meetings.

This is a journey she started a decade ago. While she was at college she attended a variety of churches, and during the summers she worked as a lifeguard at a UCC summer camp. I encouraged her curiosity.

When I was in college I attended Sunday morning services at a Lutheran church because I liked the minister and his sermons; I joined a youth group at a Methodist church because I enjoyed the sense of community; and I savored the sermons from my church at home, a progressive Church of the Brethren in Washington, D.C., because I missed the open-minded perspective of the church that I had known since I was a child.

My husband and I love our daughter. We will honor her decision and work as a family to meld our beliefs and holy days. The irony of this journey for my daughter, born on Christmas Eve and baptized on Easter Sunday, is not lost on me. The world works in mysterious ways.

I woke this morning to the cushioned quiet that only snow can provide. I thought about my daughter, a young woman searching for ways to live her faith. I thought about me, a woman in mid-life looking for ways to live my purpose. We are each looking for a place in the world, a journey beautifully described in the lyrics of Mary Chapin Carpenter:

A Place In the World
from the album of the same name, 1996

What I'm looking for, after all this time
Keeps me moving forward, trying to find it
Since I learned to walk all I've done is run
Ready, on my mark, doesn't everyone
Need a place in the world.

Could be right before your very eyes
Just beyond a door that's open wide
Could be far away or in your own backyard
There are those who say, you can look too hard
For your place in the world.

Takes some of us a little longer
A few false starts gonna make you stronger
When I'm sure I've finally found it
Gonna wrap these arms all around it.

Could be one more mile, or just one step back
In a lover's smile, down a darkened path
Friends will take our side, enemies will curse us
But to be alive is to know your purpose
It's your place in the world
Your place in the world
Your place in the world.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

No Tears Today

Last night Ken and I watched the movie Death at a Funeral on DVD. We saw it in the theater and liked it. I wanted to see it again. I particularly wanted to hear the speech that Daniel gives at the end, at his father's funeral.

Twelve years ago today my father died of a sudden heart attack. My mother called me the next morning, but I wasn't home. When I did get home, Ken told me the news.
"Your mom called. Duane died last night."
"The minister at mom's church?" I asked.
"No. That's what I thought, too. Sharon, your father died last night."
"Oh. I'll call mom and see how she's doing."

I called my mom, who told me as much as she knew. I told her we wouldn't be able to get there until Monday evening because I had to write lesson plans to cover four days. She said, "You're coming? I didn't think you'd come." I explained that I was coming for her, not my dad. He was gone.

From the time I was a small child I tried to figure out what my father wanted. I behaved myself, I earned good grades, I took care of my siblings, I showed interest in what he cared about, I did everything I was told, and I tried to stay out of his way. It didn't matter. Nothing made him happy.

When I was thirty years old I learned that if I wanted to be a sane, healthy wife and mother, I had to let go of the idea of a relationship with my father. My lifelong attempt was making me sick. I could not be one person for my father and someone else with the other people in my life. I had to set boundaries, and I knew that when I did my life would change forever.

My life did change. My dad didn't accept me, and I could no longer be anyone else.

I shed no tears the day I heard that my father died. I had cried for thirty years and lived farewell for ten. In comparison, the final good-bye was easy.

In his speech in the movie, Daniel says, "You have to grow up yourself." In the end, that's all you can do.

Friday, December 5, 2008

My Body Made Me Do It

I had to be somewhere at 9 a.m this morning. I have gotten in the habit of making appointments early in the day so I get up and get moving. I usually wait as long as possible to get out of bed, jump into my clothes, and hit the road. I always arrive on time, but just barely.

This morning I was up, dressed, and on the treadmill before 7:30 a.m. My body made me do it.

It must have been my body because my brain has been trying to get me up early for months. I've made plans for special projects, promised myself rewards, and set the alarm - all to no avail. I don't get out of bed until I absolutely have to. I would much rather stay up late to finish my tasks than get up in the morning to do the work I have to do.

For some reason my body made me get out of bed this morning. I felt compelled to put my feet on the floor and start my day. My body needed to move. I walked for twenty minutes, took a shower, and arrived at my appointment before 9:00.

Of course, there is a downside. I can't burn the candle at both ends, and by 9:00 tonight I was all in.

I don't know that I will become a regular early riser. I think I will take it one day at a time and see where my body takes me.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Read and Read Again

I was invited to a book club meeting today. A friend I've made, a woman who came to see my yard this summer, invited me to meet her friends. A chance to meet new people and talk about books? Count me in.

This month's meeting was to share a book we are currently reading and to recommend a book for the group to read next year. My current read is The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court by Jeffrey Toobin. Several years ago I thoroughly enjoyed The Brethren: Inside the Supreme Court by Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong. Now I'd like to have a better understanding of the current Supreme Court as we head into the new presidential term. I am 50 pages in, and so far so good.

My selection of a book to recommend for the group to read didn't take much thought. I pulled one of my all-time favorites off the shelf ~ Back When We Were Grownups by Anne Tyler. I first read the book in 2003, and again a couple years later. The opening line reminds me of why I love this book: "Once upon a time, there was woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person." Oh, my....

One of my favorite quotes from the book is on page 87: "Distance was the key, here: the distant, alluring mystery woman whose edges had not been worn dull by the constant minor abrasions of daily contact." What woman my age doesn't know exactly what that means?

Then I tried something that Annie wrote about this week ~ turn to page 123, find the 5th sentence, and write the next three. In this case, the essence of the main character comes through loud and clear: "In fact, some part of her had always wanted softness and abundance - the Aunt Ida look. (Which may have been why she had slipped off every diet she'd every attempted: the first pounds she lost invariably seemed to come from her cheeks, and her face would turn prim and prunish like her mother's.) The problem was, soft and abundant women were seen to their best advantage when naked." I really do love this book. Time to read it again.

It was good to meet new people and hear about what they are reading. Except for another woman and myself, the people there today are retired. I am not retired, not do I want to be. I left when they started talking about their next "senior" activity. I cannot see the day when I will call myself a "senior." I am not in denial that such things exist, but I am not there yet. Maybe when I'm 70....

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Afternoon Tea


I had errands to do today and got home about 3:00. Between unloading groceries and making room on pantry shelves, I put the kettle on. My new routine includes a pot of tea in the afternoon. In fact, I look forward to tea time.

This is something different for me, steadfast coffee drinker that I am. For almost two years I have been attempting to cut back my coffee consumption, on the stern advice of my acupuncturist. She says coffee heats things up, and my metabolism is already hot enough. As a rule, I have been able to cut down on the amount of coffee I drink. Then cold weather or a befuddling day comes along, and my first reaction is to crank up the coffee pot.

Oh, I have enjoyed black tea and herbal teas for years. Occasionally. Last year I tried to make green tea a regular component of my diet. I like it okay, especially if I combine green tea with lemon or grapefruit tea. But I don't want green tea every day, and it never came close to being a replacement for an afternoon infusion of coffee.

Then last winter my daughter found the most amazing black tea at The Christmas Tree Shop. Bromley Estate Tea. Oh, my. I knew at the first taste that she had come upon a tea that I could love. When I went to her house we would share a pot of tea, or I would make myself a single cup. Mmmmmmm. I like mine with a teaspoon of sugar. Steaming. Comfort in a cup.

My daughter gave me a few teabags to take home with me. I used them sparingly. She reassured me she would pick up another box of Bromley Tea the next time she went shopping.

Then she couldn't find it. She looked. I looked. I looked again. No luck. It was a good thing I still had a few teabags stashed away. Months passed. I was down to my last two bags.

Mid-November my daughter made one of her quick trips to the grocery store, the kind where you need a little bit of everything but don't want to buy too much of anything. The kind of trip where you wind up going through the entire store. Lo and behold, there in the coffee and tea aisle, beside all the standard teas that we've been drinking for years, she found boxes of Bromley Estate Tea. She bought a box and promptly forgot to tell me. Then she remembered to tell me but forgot to bring it over, until this past week-end.

The timing was perfect. I was down to my last teabag. I had been saving it for a special occasion.

Now I don't need a special occasion. Every afternoon this week I have enjoyed a pot of Bromley Tea for no reason other than it tastes delicious and warms in a way that is just right.

I think I better buy another box while the grocery store has it in stock. This is one habit that is actually good for me.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Cat in a Basket? Or a Box?

Last week I left the clothes basket at the top of the stairs. It held a few items that needed to be ironed. Leo jumped into the basket and stood there meowing. I removed the clothes, and ten minutes later he was settled in, sound asleep. I guess he didn't like the cushioning effect of clean clothes ~

The day after Thanksgiving my family continued a game of Rummikub they started the night before. Leo found the box and managed to get comfortable ~

My husband and I have played games with our children since they were old enough to hold cards and roll dice, and they still like to play cards and games when they come home to visit. My favorite part is spending time with my children, and I want everyone to win. My husband likes spending time with the kids, but he also likes to win. So he enjoyed some games more than others over Thanksgiving.
Ken's scorecard:
Cribbage: he won two games, one with me and one with C.
Rummikub: he came in last place, which he would blame on changing chairs halfway through, but I have the score sheet that tells a different story.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Post-Holiday Quiet


It snowed last night, just enough to cover the ground and roads. It was our first snow of the season and a fitting way to end the holiday week-end. My house, like the yard, is blanketed with quiet.

It is wonderful to have grown children home for the holidays. My oldest son and his girlfriend drove up from Boston Wednesday night, with a homemade apple pie and wine for Thursday's dinner. It was a treat for me to watch my sons catch up with each other, hearing about what's been going on in their lives. Their conversations are different with each other than with me, and I enjoy the chance to see them together.

Dinner on Thursday was wonderful. I was organized this year and had made the rolls, pies, sweet potato casserole, and a batch of cookies the day before. I even bought donuts for breakfast so we could have a leisurely morning, making oatmeal and eating cereal as people were hungry. Between breakfast and dinner there was a parade to watch, football games to follow, snacks to eat, and a cribbage game at the kitchen table. The remaining side dishes and turkey cooked without incident, and dinner was delicious.

My daughter was on 24-hour call at the hospital through Thanksgiving night, so she was unable to join us Thursday. We thought ahead and made plans for all of us to have brunch on Friday at a local restaurant, which turned out to be the perfect solution. No one had to plan a meal or cook. We could each order what sounded good and visit while we waited for the food. We talked about everything, from politics to cell phones. We shared stories and laughed and enjoyed being together.

Back at the house I put away clean dishes while everyone else continued a Rummikub game started the night before at the kitchen table. I chuckled to myself while I watched my sons and husband joke around. I smiled to see my daughter talking with my son's girlfriend ~ two women who share different aspects of my son's life.

After a dinner of turkey leftovers, it was time for P and C to drive back to Boston. Hugs all around and they were on their way. It will be a while before we are all together again because C will spend Christmas with her family in California.

There is nothing better than having my family all in one place. It is something I have never taken for granted. When my children were younger, there was enough time. Now that we are a family of adults, we make time to be together. While my children are my favorite people, they have their own lives. I am glad they like to come home and enjoy being with each other. I could not be more proud of each one of them or more grateful for the time we spend together.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Her Name Was Osie

Her friends called her Louise. Her children and grandchildren called her Grammy. I called her my mother-in-law.

My husband was the youngest of nine children, the last to move out on his own, and the last to get married. Ken introduced me to his mother on our second date, though he was beyond the age of needing her approval. What mattered to him was that we got along. Ken's mother and I had little in common, except that we both loved Ken. We started with that and got along just fine.

Grammy epitomized the ability to live in the present. She had few possessions, never lived in one place for long, and liked to be where the action was. Her one luxury was having her hair done once a week. Grammy didn't drive, so she relied on friends and family to take her shopping or to play bingo. She loved to cook and could feed a hungry crowd with whatever was in the refrigerator.

In the summer of 1982 Grammy moved into senior housing to live on her own for the first time in many years. Her apartment was furnished with donations from family and friends. As proud as she was of her new space, she was ready to hit the road on a moment's notice.

That autumn Ken and I were going home for Thanksgiving for the first time since we'd moved to Maine. All the planning and packing for two small children was worth it so we could spend the holiday with family. We were looking forward to the trip.

The afternoon before we left my sister-in-law called with sad news. It had been a couple days since anyone had talked to Grammy. One son thought she was staying with another son who thought she was with friends...while in fact she was at her apartment, found with her heart medication in her hand and a glass of water by her chair. We were going home for a funeral.

I remember little about that trip, beyond the sadness we felt. Everyone loved Grammy, and my children would never get the chance to know her.

I have been thinking quite a bit about Grammy and the life she lived. She did what she needed to do to take care of her family. She didn't hold grudges or worry about the future. Her life was simple and her needs few. She looked for the good in people, and she made the best of things along the way.

This Thanksgiving, in particular, I miss my mother-in-law. As I get older, and wiser, I think she and I would have more in common. And that would be a good thing.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

No Invitation Needed

Your chair, empty.
Your place setting, untouched.

"Is she coming?"
I shrug my shoulders,
bend my arms at the elbows
and raise my hands, palms up.

You call.

Not tonight.
Life has other plans.
No apology necessary.

There will be other
meals,
evenings,
visits.
No invitation needed.

There will be time.
I will be here.

Do what you need to do.
Know that I love you, always.

by Sharon

Friday, November 21, 2008

Antidote for News Overload

I have post-election fatigue. I started reading four political blogs regularly before the election: Daily Kos, MOMocrats, PunditMom, and Mudflats. I was fascinated by the news, opinions, and drama swirling about the candidates and issues. Add to that mix the daily newspaper, morning shows, nightly news, and PBS NewsHour, and I was thoroughly briefed on anything and everything that happened in the country each and every day. I thought things would settle down after November 4. I couldn't have been more wrong.

Now there is daily coverage of the country's financial situation, President-elect Obama's time of transition, Congressional maneuvers, elections still not decided, and party politics - not to mention all the news about other daily events. My brain is full. It's time for me to take a break from all the doin's of the world and find that peaceful place inside.

I remembered this today ~

Work with joy.
Pray with love.
Dream from your heart.
Share what you have.
Live simply. Love deeply.

A good friend shared those words in her comments on a post I wrote in May. I love the wisdom and simplicity found in those five lines. This is my meditation for today, tomorrow, and the day after that. And I will remember to breathe....

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Bill Nemitz is Right

There are many quotes of Martin Luther King, Jr. that speak to our times. One of my favorites: Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. I knew someone who signed their emails with that quote. A person could build a life on those 14 words.

I have thought of Martin Luther King, Jr. often in the last weeks. I wished he could be here to watch Barack Obama campaign and win the election for president on a platform of change for our country. I wish he could feel the hope that so many feel as a result of that election, despite the problems we still face. I was so elated that Obama won that I have avoided reading about the negative backlash of the conservative right. I have paid little attention to the words or actions of people who did not want Barack Obama to become president.

I haven't had my head completely in the sand. I scan the headlines of the Portland paper, and I watch the local news. I knew that a student at a Maine high school was suspended for screaming racist comments about Obama. I also knew that the civil rights team at the school took action to protest the student's actions. Maine has an extensive network of civil rights teams in middle schools and high schools throughout the state.

What I didn't realize until yesterday was the extent of racist activity that has occurred throughout my state, a state whose majority voted for Barack Obama. My awareness might not have been raised if not for the column of Bill Nemitz, who writes a column on Tuesdays and Sundays for the Portland Press Herald. If I read nothing else in the paper, I read Bill's column. He often writes human interest stories about individuals who succeed in the face of great difficulty and situations where the right thing happens despite the odds.

Bill's column yesterday was not a feel-good, right-conquers-might type of story. The headline, "Don't honor signs of hate with silence," indicates the tone of his message. I knew from the seven words in the title that this column would be a call to action, much like the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.

And I was right. Bill starts with the details of a story about the owner of a small-town general store who started a pool that people entered by picking the date that President-elect Barack Obama would be assassinated. Someone tipped off the press, and the Associated Press filed a story last week. The owner has conveniently gone hunting up north for a week. The Secret Service is investigating, as is the Maine Attorney General's Office.

I couldn't believe what I was reading. I reread the account. How was this possible? What kind of person would think of such a thing? There was more. Bill goes on to write about another incident in another town, where black cardboard cut-outs in the shapes of people were hung from trees along roads after the election, an action met with protests by community members. Bill writes, "And that, Wessler [executive director of the Center for the Prevention of Hate Violence] says, is exactly what should happen...."

Bill then quotes Thomas Harnett, Maine's assistant attorney general for civil rights education and enforcement: "The best way to counter hateful speech is to assert one's own right to free speech," Harnett said. "It's very important for people to speak out loudly and clearly and powerfully that this is not how Maine feels."

And that is why I am writing about this here: These incidents do not speak for the people of Maine. I, like the majority of Maine citizens, am appalled by the actions of a handful of people who project violence against President-elect Obama. Their attempts to separate and intimidate will not be tolerated. Their bullying behavior will not go unpunished.

News of these incidents is a call to all parents, teachers, ministers, business leaders, politicians, citizens, and students that we cannot remain passive in light of the hope of President-elect Obama's promise of change for our country. We must all remain vigilant and speak out against racist jokes, hateful comments, and violent actions. This matters, and we must not remain silent.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Rearranging

Making room for this ball of fluff ~

helped us make room for this mass of metal and plastic ~

Saturday morning we bought a treadmill. We have been talking about getting one since we moved into this house.

When we lived in the city, I walked any time of day and in all kinds of weather. I walked to get fresh air, to exercise, and to do errands. There were sidewalks and paved streets. Within one mile of our house I could go to the credit union, buy a newspaper and lottery tickets, get a cup of coffee or fast food, rent a video, visit the post office, and buy groceries.

Also in the city was a variety of places to work out. In 2001 Ken and I bought a 6-month gym membership at the Comfort Inn, which also had a pool. The gym was small and the equipment limited, but it was close to home and reasonably priced. We renewed several times and went fairly regularly.

We now live twenty miles from the city on a dirt road in the woods. On foot there is no attainable destination. There is dust in the summer, mud when it rains, ice in the winter, and hunters in the fall. It has been too easy to find an excuse to stay inside and stationery.

For the past year and a half Ken and I have talked about where we would put a treadmill and could not agree on the perfect placement. There was no perfect place. Furniture needed to be moved and space rearranged, which felt overwhelming.

Enter Leo. We didn't have a cat and didn't think we had room in our lives for a cat. Leo showed up and changed all that. He found us and obviously needed care and attention. We made room, literally, by rearranging the garage. We found room, figuratively, for a feline friend, and we have benefited as much as he has.

So making room for a treadmill wasn't such a big leap after that. The living room got a no-cost makeover via much-needed decluttering and new furniture arrangement, a fine result regardless of the reason. That cleared a spot for my sewing machine and table, which inhabited a corner of the family room. Rearranging the family room made space for the treadmill and created a more inviting area for watching television and listening to ballgames on the radio. Gains all around.

And no more excuses for not exercising.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

An Economic Rant

It slipped out. I didn't mean to yell, but I couldn't contain my anger any longer. "The checkbook is empty!" I hollered earlier this week in response to one more report about the nation's economy. "You're out of checks and money, too!" I added. I would be in trouble, too, if I ran my household like many of the nation's investment institutions and companies have managed their accounts. My impression is that they wrote checks that weren't theirs for money they didn't have. What did they expect would happen? Seriously, how did they expect this to end?

I am angry because my family and millions of Americans are paying the price for mistakes made by a privileged few. Now the Secretary of the Treasury says that there won't be enough money within the $700 billion to help people with mortgages because all of that money, and more, needs to be used to buy shares in the institutions that are in trouble. Now American automakers have their hands out.

Hold the phone. Just hold on one cotton-pickin' minute. I remember the 1970's, complete with gas lines and oil embargoes. I remember the call for fuel efficient cars and cars that used alternative fuels. That was the time to change the car culture in this country. There was a window of opportunity, and if you want to see how that opportunity could have become reality check out the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? Instead of capitalizing on what was possible, the auto industry continued to make bigger and bigger gas guzzlers. Now they are in trouble and want to be bailed out.

I don't know how important it is that American car companies survive. I drive a used Subaru Outback that gets 27 miles to the gallon. I plan my trips to include every possible errand. There are days at a time when my car does not leave the garage.

The thing that makes me so angry is that many of us have made it a standard to live within our means, and we are finding more ways to conserve energy and resources. Our thermostat is currently at 65 degrees. I have found ways to cut our grocery bill, and we continue to eat healthy meals. I have seen reports about "phantom" power draws, so we are trying to remember to unplug electronics when they're not in use.

I don't write checks that aren't mine for money I don't have. I don't know where those bankers, brokers, and CEOs went to school, but they need a refresher course in Economics 101. I invite them to give me or any of the women I know a call because we could teach them a thing or two about balancing a budget.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Broken Glass

A week ago Ken and I opened a special bottle of wine, the last from our trip to San Francisco in 2006. The half-filled bottle was on the counter. After I cleared the table I turned around, threw open my arms, and sent the bottle flying. The neck broke as the bottle fell and wine flowed into a puddle on the floor.

On Sunday I prepared chicken to cook for dinner. I set the plate of boneless breasts on the counter, and it promptly dropped to the floor where the plate broke into a dozen shards. I salvaged the chicken. A day later I found a piece of blue ceramic under the kitchen table.

Yesterday I melted butter in the microwave to make molasses cookies. As I removed the lid from the casserole, I lost my grip. The lid landed in the sink on a wine glass. The glass, left from the night before, shattered. The Pyrex lid, thirty-one years old in September, escaped unscathed. I can replace the glass.

I feel like an awkward teenager. I can't seem to keep track of my limbs or control what they're doing. I have lost my perspective of space and where I am, literally.

Since yesterday afternoon I have used two hands when I do anything. I stop to think about where I am in relation to my surroundings. I secure everything I set down, and I have moved anything breakable back from the edge. My behavior belies my internal transition. Is this a breakthrough, or is it just broken glass?

Last night I needed a reprieve, so I sat for hours and worked on a scarf I started knitting last week. Nothing breakable there, and for safety sake I may finish it sooner rather than later.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Foggy and Clear

*Note: My latest post is up at 50-something moms blog ~ Bands of Gold.

Yesterday Ken and I visited a popular spot on the southern coast of Maine.

The Portland Head Light in fog ~

Waves on Maine's rocky coast ~

A statue at the playground in Fort Williams Park ~

A spider's web outlined with water droplets ~

Ken and I wanted to "get out of Dodge" for a day. That's code for getting away from the house and doing something purely for the fun of it. We were going to take a ferry to one of the islands off the coast, but the forecast for rain delayed those plans. We decided to drive down to Cape Elizabeth to see the Portland Head Lighthouse, called that because it guides ships headed into Portland Harbor. It is a worthy destination even in inclement weather. Fog blanketed the area and added a surreal quality to the park, which we explored from paved trails and leaf-covered lawns.

While walking and talking, Ken and I had a chance to reconnect. Just us, about us, for us. We had only ourselves to focus on and enjoy.

It started to drizzle, so we drove into Portland for lunch. Lobsters are plentiful right now. In an effort to support the local economy, I had a bowl of lobster stew and Ken had a lobster roll. No sacrifice there - the food was delicious. On the way home we stopped at a favorite bakery for coffee and dessert. Unhurried and unscheduled, the day turned into night and a relaxed evening at home.

I had no control over the weather. The day required no planning on my part. It was clear to me that at times I work too hard to make things happen. I worry too much about how things will turn out. Days like yesterday are gifts that remind me to relax and enjoy this trip, my life.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

A Different Kind of Anniversary

Death should be inconvenient, she insisted.
I agreed.
She continued, When I die I want people's lives to be interrupted.

It was December 7, 1996. That morning I learned my dad had died suddenly, unexpectedly the night before. The first person I called was Marie. She was one of the few people who understood the complicated relationship I had with my father. Marie was soon at my door with two pounds of fresh ground Dunkin' Donuts coffee. She said it seemed appropriate. It was.

In addition to all the usual preparations and packing for such a trip, I had to organize four days' worth of lesson plans before my husband and I and our three children drove to Maryland. Marie made it clear that this was not supposed to be an easy time for me. A parent's death was serious business, regardless of the circumstances.

In terms of our own deaths, Marie and I talked about something that would happen decades later, after we had lived our lives. Our children were still young. We still had so much to accomplish. We wanted our lives to matter and for people to notice when we were gone.

Marie died November 6, 2005, long before her life was finished but not before it mattered. Marie's absence was noticed by all who knew her. She lived with gusto and hope. She would have campaigned for Obama and celebrated his victory, which makes this year's anniversary of her death even more poignant.

I still miss you, my friend.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Election Night

I have been waiting for this night for eight years - long, sad, difficult years. At times I have been moved to tears as I watched the current administration roll over the laws, values, and integrity of our country. Who would have thought that so few could destroy so much in such a short period of time?

I feel hopeful for the first time in eight years. I have hope for my future and the future of my children. I feel hopeful for our country and the world. I see peace ahead, and financial stability, and new solutions, and finding a way to work together.

Right now I feel like anything is possible. And that feels good.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day


For me, this is what this election is all about.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Time to Fall Back and Move Ahead

First, a shout out to starrlife over at Life Decanted. She posted every day in October, which is truly an accomplishment. On October 31 she recognized seven blogs, and this blog was one. I appreciate the honor. I encourage you to visit Life Decanted, where starrlife writes about the joys and challenges of life as a mother, wife, and social worker.

Second, what did you do with your extra hour? I used to ask students to write about what they planned to do with the hour they would gain when the clocks were turned back. This year I used the promise of the extra hour to fill the entire day.

My daughter and I left the house in the dark yesterday morning to go shopping. Now this was unusual for a couple reasons: neither one of us is an early riser or a particularly avid shopper. However, we had some Christmas shopping to do and loved the idea of getting those items on sale. In this case, the earlier we shopped the more we saved, with the best discount between 6:00 and 7:00 am. We pulled into the coastal town at 6:15. People filled the streets and stores. We shopped, shook hands with my local candidate for state senate, and lined up to order breakfast by 7:20. We were home by 9 am.

The whole day was ahead of us. Ken and I loaded up the car for a trip to the recycling barn. On the drive home we listened to Click and Clack's advice about spare tires. Spare tire? I had never checked the spare tire in either car.

Upon inspection we found that our spare tires were well below the recommended pressure. Ken started up the compressor and gave each tire a healthy dose of air. While we were at it we checked the oil and cleaned out the trunk. I was on a roll and it wasn't even noon yet.

My daughter and I talked politics while I finished sewing up hats for a hat and mitten drive. Then I altered the sleeves on a jacket that has been in the mending pile since we moved. Ken and I had plans for a dinner out, and I thought I might wear the jacket and matching skirt.

Our dinner out was a belated celebration of our 31st anniversary. In mid-September we were dining on take-out and sleeping in bunk beds at my mother's house, so we promised ourselves a proper dinner at a later time. For some reason November 1 appealed to me for our date.

It was perfect timing. We returned to a restaurant we found many years ago. The food wasn't as good as we remembered, but the unhurried atmosphere was just right for a fall evening. We stopped at a favorite cafe to buy dessert ~ a huge eclair and a slice of cannoli cake ~ to enjoy with coffee when we got home.

I felt tired and satisfied when I climbed into bed last night. Life doesn't get much better than a busy day followed by a relaxing evening.

I'm going to let that first day in November set the tone for the days and weeks to come. I have a lot to do and I think it's time I got started. Stay tuned.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Poem: The Journey

I first read this poem by Mary Oliver almost seven years ago*. It was my introduction to this extraordinary poet, as well as the first time I read anything that so accurately described how I felt about my life situation. If I had to choose one favorite poem, this would be it:

The Journey
by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice -
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do -
determined to save
the only life that you could save.

When I first read this poem, I thought about the voices that had called to me my whole life, outside forces that felt out of my control. Many existed only in memories, yet continued to play on a continuous loop. Others were in response to patterns I had put in place and would quiet only when I changed my ways of doing and responding.

In the years since my first reading of this poem I have been on a journey to identify that new voice, the one that I am slowly recognizing as my own. There have been breakthroughs and set-backs. I have continued on, determined to do the only thing I can do.

This past week-end I had an aha moment. The poem refers not only to those voices without but also the voices within. I am the house that trembles when I fear I will fail. My old perceptions are the foundations, and the melancholy has indeed been terrible as they have been shaken to their very core. Time has passed, but it is not too late. As old voices fall silent, a new voice can be heard in the distance. As my mind clears and confidence grows, that voice gets louder and stronger. The new voice is mine. The journey continues....

*First read in the book by Roger Housden Ten Poems to Change Your Life.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Stuffing Envelopes

Today I stuffed envelopes for my candidate for state senator. It's easy to do, it doesn't cost me anything to contribute in this way, and I get a chance to meet people who live locally.

I am not from this area. The last place we lived was new to me thirty years ago, but eventually I knew landmarks and locations. We've been here less than two years, so I don't know present or past landmarks. The directions for today were to meet where the laundromat used to be, one town over from where I live. Well, it took me three false starts to find the place.

Once inside, I took a seat at one of two tables. I became part of a production line with four other women ~ folding letters, stuffing envelopes, gluing flaps, and applying address labels, stamps, and return address labels. I picked the talkative table, which suited me just fine, not to talk so much but to listen. I heard about where others were volunteering, what they thought about the election and candidates, what was happening in town, and who knew who. I learned that yoga classes are offered just four miles from my house ~ I had no idea!

Over the course of three hours people left and others joined the effort. A small group was still going strong when I left, hoping for fresh volunteers to help this evening.

Tomorrow I will help with a mailing for my state representative, who is running for re-election. I know where to go because we will meet at the county headquarters. There will be a different group of people, and the conversation will include a more serious critique of the election. I'm sure I will learn something new. In fact, I'm looking forward to it.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Of Railings and Writing

Front view ~ painted railings, posts, and boards under the deck and eaves:

Side view ~ finished outside painting ~ priceless:

We had a glorious fall day yesterday. Sunshine and warm temperatures. I didn't expect such a day, and I took advantage of the gift to tackle what remained of the outside painting. Success! I was able to finish the vertical posts and horizontal boards beneath and eaves and deck. All of the railings and backs to the steps have also been painted. It took me four months ~ I have finished the outside painting. I felt such a sense of accomplishment last night.

Last week my latest post went up at 50-something moms blog: Go Pink: Join An Army of Women. I wrote about my first mammogram experience and the opportunity to join Dr. Susan Love's database of volunteers for breast cancer research.

I haven't been posting as regularly on that site because I wasn't sure how I fit in there. I had a chance to talk with one of the editors Friday afternoon, which helped me clarify in my own mind why I will continue to be a contributor. It matters to me that I am on the right track. She said my perspective will come through whatever I write, and that's what they are looking for. I think I have been laboring too hard over every article. I want to loosen up and enjoy the writing more. My original goal was to write for myself and the women who read that blog; I have no obligations beyond that and didn't think I wanted to write for a wider audience.

This week I am rethinking that. I am curious about how women make money with their writing. I have started investigating where there are places I could write and get paid. It wouldn't amount to much at the beginning, but there may be a way to start. It's just an idea.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Leo Fits In

Leo wraps himself with his tail as he sleeps on "his" box. He hasn't fallen off yet ~

Leo sleeping on Ken's lap ~

Leo has become part of our family. Last night my husband said, "Leo fits right in." The cat has figured out our household schedule and how to make his needs known. He likes canned food in the morning and a nap on his box in the afternoon. Some nights he wants to go bed early, so he meows to go into the garage. Ken gives him dry food before he leaves for work. From the garage Leo hears me when I start moving around in the morning, and he lets me know he's ready to come in.

We weren't looking for a cat and hadn't really considered getting a pet. Leo found us and made us his family. I will always wonder how he knew we were the right family for him.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Clarity Through the Tears

Cold snap. The temperature was 25 degrees at 8:00 this morning.

Clarity snap. For the last three days I've been working out some things that have been trying to come to the surface for weeks.

Things started to shift on August 26, a day that holds significance because it was my friend Marie's birthday. This year it was also the night of Hillary Clinton's speech at the Democratic Convention, an inspiring speech that made me all the sorrier to see an end to her campaign. I climbed into bed that night and all the emotions of the day came pouring out. I sobbed. Ken woke up and wanted to help, but there was nothing for him to do. I needed to cry it out. Loss. Missed opportunities. Grief over what will never be.

Since that night I have been extremely emotional, crying at the drop of a hat. All of a sudden the tears will start, while I'm driving or watching a movie or listening to music. I've been working with my massage therapist around whatever it is that I have been trying to work through.

I've also been working with my acupuncturist. I had an appointment yesterday and told her at the beginning that, after another short breather, the night sweats and anxiety had returned full force in the last week. We talked about what else has been going on with my family and my job search. Once I was on the table she positioned a number of needles in my ears, legs, and hands. Then I had a period of quiet time, which is sometimes filled with mental chatter. Yesterday, though, I silently asked for "the peace that passes all understanding." The phrase came to me this week as a last resort. For weeks when I prepare for sleep I have said "I am at peace," but my mind and body have not taken the bait. I haven't been at peace. So I started asking for the peace I can't understand with my mind, the ultimate peace that comes from the essence of who I am. And that simple request has helped me get to sleep.

When I made the request yesterday the tears started to roll down my cheeks. There was nothing I could do because I had to lay quietly. What was going on? Where was all this emotion coming from? I relaxed. I listened. At the essence of the request for peace that passes all understanding is the acceptance of who I am at my core. I realized that by making that request I acknowledge the real me, not the me I think I have to be. And at that moment I no longer saw myself divided as an outer me and an inner me. I was one.

When the acupuncture treatment was over, I felt calmer, though still emotional. Before she left the room, the therapist asked me if I felt better. I said yes. I did.

I moved through the rest of day feeling like something was working itself out. At the end of the day, while I was taking a shower, another piece fell into place. I have felt for a long time that there is a place inside me that I can't reach. I envision that place as a black box, like the box on a plane that tracks what really happens in the cockpit, the box that holds the secrets. Last night I realized that what I haven't been able to reach is me, the essence of who I am.

The last four years have been a search for that essence. Menopause has not been a time for me to hit my stride or come into my own because I am still sorting out what I am not. I am not the roles I play. I am not all the things I am able to do or all the things I know. I am not who other people say I am or who they need me to be. I am not who I thought I would be.

While I kept trying to reconcile all those things, I needed those things to fall away. While I was trying to replace one role with another, I needed to accept that all roles are false and no role can take the place of who I am.

This morning I revisited chapter 7 in A New Earth for the umpteenth time. Every time I read any chapter in this book I learn something new. It often takes several readings for me to digest a concept. I know what the words means; it takes time for the meaning to sink in.

These words on page 190 became crystal clear today: "Whatever you think the world is withholding from you, you are withholding from the world. You are withholding it because deep down you think you are small and that you have nothing to give." I have been withholding "me" from the world.

The journey continues....

Sunday, October 19, 2008

In This Time of Challenge and Controversy

In 15 days we will elect the next president of the United States. Today Colin Powell endorsed Barack Obama. Other prominent Republicans and conservative newspapers and journalists have also endorsed Barack Obama for president. Republicans have publicly asked McCain and Palin to stop making phone calls that spread lies about Obama, to stop the negative ads, and to stop the talk of hate at their rallies.

I decided it was my turn to stand up and say "enough," but I didn't know who to tell. Then Bang the Drum posted a letter on her blog that said exactly what I wanted to say to McCain and Palin. The letter is sponsored by colorofchange.org and can be signed here. I signed it and asked not to receive any future emails, and I haven't. I received only a confirmation and a request to share the letter with people I know.

I don't usually fill a post with links or ask readers to do anything other than read what I've written, and I won't do this often, I promise. These are challenging times and there is so much at stake. I needed to do something proactive and wanted to offer you the same opportunity. I do still believe in the best of human nature, but I am not naive enough to think the political climate is going to get any better before or immediately after the election. The more we speak up, the better our chances of surviving these challenging times to thrive as our country moves forward.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Leo, Sarah, and Me

That's Leo Tomcat to you and me. Those of you who thought Leo was a male were right. And not a young male but a mature male of about 12 years old, as close as the vet could figure. Leo weighed in at 7 lbs. 3 oz. The good news is that he doesn't have any feline diseases. The bad news is that the cloudy left eye has a cataract, although you would never know he can't see out of that eye. He needed only a rabies shot and an injection of antibiotics for whatever he might have picked up while he was braving the wild.

The trip to the vet was an adventure in itself. Leo and I drove from our house to my daughter's, and he meowed and hissed the whole trip. My daughter put her cats in the basement and gave Leo the run of her house, where there was so much to see and do! Time to go to the vet, and Leo didn't like that trip in the carrier any better than the first; he meowed loudly until we got into the vet's office. Then there was stunned silence, not so much as a peep from Mr. Leo. We figured he remembers going to the vet and knew what was in store. He behaved beautifully for the vet. Back in the car, Leo returned to his old self and serenaded us all the way home.

Leo is officially our cat now. When a person pays the vet bill and tolerates the wrath that said vet visit incurs, that person owns the cat. Welcome to the family, Leo.

The other noteworthy thing that happened around here yesterday was that Sarah Palin visited Bangor, Maine (pronounced BANG -gor). From her introductory remarks you'd think that all Mainers wear overalls and carry a gun. There were about 4,000 people at the rally, and I hope that's the extent of her support in this state. I am ready for the election to be over and for Sarah Palin to disappear from the news cycle.

I had a chance to talk with my good friend who lives in the Southwest last night. She does the most beautiful job of keeping friends updated with photos of the trips they take, photos that are clearly labeled and organized. I need some lessons on how to use the computer to organize and archive photos, so that's one of the things on our to-do list the next time we get together.

Do you remember when I wrote about applying for the Whirlpool Innovation Grant? Well, I didn't win a prize, but this week Whirlpool sent me a stain removal marker and a certificate of participation. I felt like a third-grader who was out in the first round of the school spelling bee.

Job Update: One letter and one no-email-no-phone-call response about the two jobs I most recently applied for. No go. Not gonna happen. Here's the thing: It would be so much easier to get a job than to try and figure out what to do next on my own. I am hungry for a mandated routine, a list of things to do somewhere besides here, people who share ideas, and a paycheck. If I give up on wanting that, I need to figure out what I want instead. Kate left a link in a comment about the parable of the trapeze, letting go of one to hang in the void while waiting for the next one. It is an apt description of transition and fits how I'm feeling right now. It' s worth a read and can be found at http://www.earthstewards.org/ESN-Trapeze.asp.

The journey continues....

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Taxes, the Economy, and Politics

I paid our property taxes today. On time. With a check written on our checking account.

When we bought this house, we set up an escrow account with the mortgage company so that they would be responsible for paying our property taxes and homeowner's insurance. Our taxes are due in October and April. Last February I got a notice from our town office that our property taxes, that were due last October, had never been paid. Really? Yes, the mortgage company never paid them. Phone call to the town office. Phone call to the mortgage company. Phone call between the two of them to straighten things out. Arrangements were made for the mortgage company to pay the taxes due and the fines that had accrued over five months. A week later I called the town office to see if they had received payment. No, not yet. More phone calls. To say I was upset was an understatement. Finally, the taxes and fines were paid the first week in March.

Then I took back control of paying our property taxes and homeowner's insurance. What mortgage company, you ask? Countrywide. We didn't start with them, but they took over the company we originally contracted with. Over the last months it has become obvious that Countrywide has more problems than not remembering to pay people's property taxes. I'm not worried about our mortgage because the company has tightened its belt and will continue to do business or sell out to another company.

The thing that upset me the most about the late payment of our property taxes was that the town had not been paid what they were due. I apologized to the person at the town office, although she made the point that it wasn't my fault. I wanted her to know that it was important to me that my bills are paid on time, that I take my responsibilities seriously.

I think of this small incident in the context of the current economic crisis. The devil is in the details. If companies cannot manage the small, routine responsibilities, then how can they expect to deal with major operations? I'm not saying that financial institutions should be micromanaged by outsiders. I am saying that they need to start paying attention to how they do business at the most basic level if they plan to survive this recession.

Our country's economy would be in much better shape if banks, investment firms, insurance companies, mortgage brokers, and the federal government exercised fiscal responsibility. There will be huge fines to pay for this mess. Changes must be made. Companies and chief executives must be held accountable.

In recent weeks Suze Orman has appeared on several talk shows. Her mantra is "people before money." If our financial institutions put people before profits, everyone will benefit. If our government puts people first, our country will be strong again. It means we need to change priorities and policies. We can make those changes if we have the courage to put people first.

After watching the third presidential debate tonight, I have hope for the future. I think Barack Obama has the courage to make the tough choices required to put people first in this country. I think he has the ability to lead us in a new direction. I think he knows it will be hard to do the right thing, but he has the integrity to do the job. He has a vision, and I look forward to watching him make it a reality.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Leo Napping and Other Developments

My daughter took more pictures of Leo:

I'm taking a nap ~
on my box ~
I see you taking my picture ~
and I choose to ignore you~

Leo likes to sit on boxes and rugs, and s/he does both very well.

I appreciated the supportive comments, in a variety of forms, after my last post. Those feelings bubble up periodically. It's either share them or stuff them, and stuffing them only works temporarily. It helps to write the words and reflect on what they mean for me right now. It's good to know that friends don't think I'm crazy. I'm glad I'm not alone.

You heard me and so did the powers that be. Yesterday I got an email from a friend about getting together today for an early dinner. Now we've been trying to get together for six months with no luck. The plans for today easily fell into place. Surprising? Maybe not....

I have a wise friend who is a Leo. I am an Aquarius. I've never studied up on what my astrological sign says about me, but now I'm curious and may investigate further. I've never been in a job that paid a lot of money, though I daydream about hitting the lottery and having the money to set up a foundation to help people start their own businesses. I believe that if I do what I love, enough money will follow. My dilemma is that I need experience to do policy work, and it's tough to get that experience without a job in the field. My degree isn't in policy; it's in community and organizational practice. For many reasons, that made sense at the time, I didn't go for a degree in policy. I wanted to make the connection between people's needs and policy...and I would probably do that again because there's no way to know what's on the other side until you get there.

I do get something back when I volunteer, so I said yes when I was asked to join a local organization's legislative committee. The committee gives input and feedback on the org's legislative agenda. We will meet for an hour once a month, though there may be work to do outside that time frame, and it will keep me updated on what's going on at the State House in Augusta. I have connections with this organization and other non-profit groups through the work I did during my second-year social work internship. I will have a chance to reconnect, as well as meet new people. The first meeting is on Monday, and I'm looking forward to getting started.

Today, between volunteering at the local campaign office and meeting my friend for dinner, I met with the owner of the "sensuality boutique" who expressed interest in IntiMats®. I thought the store was incredibly busy for a Tuesday afternoon. We talked between her chats with customers and ringing up sales. I am honest with anyone I talk to about the product, that I have put out a variety of ideas and will run with whatever sticks. Well, I may have found an idea that will stick. She took three IntiMats® on consignment and is willing to channel back to me any comments she gets. The tags have my email address and etsy site, so people can connect with me if they so desire. This arrangement meant I had to raise the price [to equal what she will charge] on the etsy site, which is fine with me. I may have priced it so low that people didn't think it was anything special.
This is a huge step for me. This means that I am serious about testing the waters of the business world. I have been dancing around the edges of this "pond" for a long time. I don't know what might happen and cannot plan for what I don't know. Big step for me, who likes to have a hand on the controls at all times. This is one more thing to "let go." Many of you understand when I say how scary this is. It's also exciting.

Monday, October 13, 2008

My Life Situation and Other Random Things

Look for Six Random Things About Me at the end of this post. Katie at the (re)construction tagged me, so I am following up. All week-end I thought about what random things I can say....

and what I think about my life situation right now. I have been posting pictures and stories about Leo because 1) that's fun and positive, and 2) life has stalled again. I am not where I thought I would be, as in I have to think back three years to find where the last leg of my most recent journey began. Yes, it has been almost exactly three years.... There have been so many twists and turns, each one related to what came before and a precursor to what comes next, that I can't even think about the last three years in one dimension.

Today I thought back over 33 years of life changes that I have been through. The difference each time before was that I felt confident about changing gears and passionate about what I was headed for next: leaving college, planning pregnancies, returning to college, teaching. Sure, along the way I made false starts, but I always caught myself before I was in too deep or unable to change course without dire consequences. Right now it feels like I'm being punished for taking off in a new direction, for having confidence that I would hit my stride and find work that made a difference, even a small difference in my corner of the world. Why did I think I could make this work? Because I was always able to make it work in the past...always.

The irony is that I feel less confident and more self-aware than I have ever felt in my life. Right now I would trade every bit of self-awareness for any amount of confidence; I may still have it, but it is buried so deep that I only experience it in my dreams, where I have been particularly capable and successful lately. I wake up thinking that I like that woman [me] and wonder where she is. The waking hours bring no answers, so I paint and clean and cross projects off my list. I enjoy time with my husband, daughter, and sons, which is good for my soul. Then each one goes back to work, and I question what I am doing with my life.

Time to lighten up with Six Random Things About Me:

1) My first favorite author was Chaim Potok. It all started with The Chosen, which I have read many times, and carried on through the years as I read books he wrote before and after that one.

2) I watch soap operas. It started with All My Children over, dare I admit this, 37 years ago. It made sense that I stay with ABC, so I also follow One Life to Live and General Hospital, though I am most loyal to the citizens of Pine Valley. I can go without watching "my stories," as that previous generation labeled the soaps, but I do catch up when time and schedules allow. Soap operas are great company when I work on projects around the house.

3) I used to write poetry.

4) Sometimes I secretly put sugar on my Cheerios or Special K cereal. It just tastes so good.

5) I still have two boxes to unpack from our move, over a year and a half ago. They live behind the couch, and Leo likes to nap on one of them. [Tomorrow I will post a picture of Leo on the long flat box, and then I pledge to unpack both of them.]

6) I play the lottery. Twice a week I buy a Megabucks and a Powerball ticket. I play specific numbers, and I believe that I am due to hit the jackpot any day now.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Leo: One Week Later

Oh, a catnip toy. The one last week wasn't all that appealing. But wait, this one has a real kick ~

Let me at it ~

Oh, my, I love this catnip pillow ~

I never want to lose this catnip feeling ~
[pillow can be found under the cat, firmly in her grasp...sigh....]

*Photo credit: my daughter, who can laugh and take pictures.
Tonight my daughter and I stopped at a pet store to pick up some items. She picked up two catnip pillows for her cats. When we got back to my house, we unpacked the car and she piled her items near the garage door. Well, Leo just had to check it out. My daughter watched her and brought the catnip pillows upstairs. Then she called me in from the other room. Oh my goodness. The photos above show our found feline in catnip heaven. My daughter tried to remove a pillow from her grasp...and it was the first time we've seen Leo hisssssss. One more thing we've learned about this cat who came into our lives just one week ago....

Leo is still with us. S/he looks better and feels so at home that she doesn't need to keep one of us in her sights every minute. She likes tuna cat food and would eat only that if we didn't sometimes make dry food the only option. She loves cat snacks. We learned she likes milk when she almost knocked us over to follow my empty cereal bowl and Ken's empty ice cream bowl to the kitchen; each time it started innocently enough with her purring on our lap while we had a snack.

Leo has her own space in the garage for eating, sleeping, and using the kitty litter box, a real one that Ken bought yesterday. She recently selected another spot for naps and bathing - on top of a piece of luggage, which I have covered with a towel for her comfort and my need to keep a handle on the cat hair, which is a battle I may well lose. Mid-week she started bathing several times an hour, probably to make up for all that lost time while she was trying to survive whatever adventure she was on for who knows how long. It's funny to watch her start to walk across the room and suddenly sit down to lick some body part.

We haven't had any luck finding Leo's owner. I haven't had a response to the call I placed on Wednesday to the number on the poster for the lost cat two towns over. I did have someone else call when they saw my number posted as someone who found an orange cat, but Leo is not their striped tabby.

I made an appointment for a vet visit next Thursday. Her eye looks better, but I want to make sure it doesn't need treatment. She obviously scuffled with something. She was an indoor cat so she probably needs shots for anything she might have picked up during her outdoor adventure.

If we still have her Thursday, I am going to assume she's ours to keep or find a good home. And considering how she has become part of the household, I think it will be the former.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Phone Calls

The phone did ring this morning. It was the postal clerk from the town with the invisible posters for the lost cat. She apologized for taking so long to call me back, but it took her this long to find a poster with a phone number. I thanked her and wrote down the number. Then I waited until after 9:00 a.m. to call because my mother always said, "Don't phone someone before 9 a.m. or after 9 p.m." I left a message on an answering machine. Now I wait some more.

I have another phone call to make. I heard from another store owner that she is interested in learning more about my product. I've stopped by her store twice and missed her both times. Honestly, I had never been in a store called "a sensuality boutique." It is a modestly advertised second-floor store on a busy street in Portland that sells books, gifts, toys, and accessories for adult women. I emailed the owner this week, and she got right back to me. She would like to talk to me about the product and price, which I'm willing to negotiate at this time because I have an inventory that I would like to get "out there." I will call her later today.

I have not gotten a phone call about the job I interviewed for a week ago. It doesn't help to keep rethinking what I said and could have said and shouldn't have said. Second-guessing is never helpful. Things played out the way they were meant to. Interviews are artificial situations that do not really give a true picture of the person who wants the job. Some people are able to put their best selves out there under stress, and some of us struggle through hoping that the interviewer will see some glimmer of what we have to offer. Again, I will wait some more.

I need to make two calls to let companies know I do not want them to share my information with other companies. New privacy policies went into effect October 1. I have to call a credit card company to confirm what I have to do to keep 0% interest on a transferred balance - just want to make sure we have the same understanding so I don't get zapped in January because of some fine print.

Last evening Ken called the credit card company to take the hold off our account [the card that was in his wallet that he left at the post office where the postal clerk called the company to let them know the card was safe]. Well, there was miscommunication there because the company cancelled our account. They are sending us new cards...with a new account number...again. We went through this with this card just months ago when our LLBean credit card changed from this company. We need to apply for the new LLBean card, which I was on the fence about until I wanted to order an item and remembered that I no longer have free shipping.

Well, I've put off vacuuming long enough. I haven't wanted to interrupt Leo, who is napping quietly behind the couch. I will wait a bit longer but at some point I have to make all that noise. If Leo is like my daughter's cats, she will not take kindly to the racket and make a beeline for the furthermost corner of the house. Leo and I have come to an understanding and found a way to co-exist. I don't want the vacuum cleaner to come between us now.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Are You Leo's Owner?

I was tired last night. Just plain worn out. I didn't walk long distances physically, but I travelled quite a few miles yesterday on behalf of lost things.

The morning started with a call to our local post office. Sunday afternoon Ken couldn't find his wallet. Anywhere. He looked throughout the house, and then I went through every room and drawer because I was sure he just didn't see it. Then we searched the garage and car. No luck. He thought back to the last time he had it in his hand...and it was just before noon on Saturday at the post office, just before closing time.

So I made the call when they opened, and sure enough Ken's wallet was there. The woman tried to find him on Saturday. The problem was that she was working with information on Ken's license, which still lists our old address. That led to a call to our old phone number, which is now my daughter's number, and she doesn't have an answering machine. The postal worker went above and beyond - she also called the credit card company to let them know the card was safe and not stolen in case Ken called to cancel the account. Now that's service.

I figured that while I was out and about collecting Ken's wallet I would stop one town over to check out the posters for the lost cat. Problem: there was not a poster to be found. Someone mentioned the posters on Sunday, so where were they? I stopped in at every business that was open. Every person I talked to remembered seeing the posters but could not put their hands on one. One guy said his neighbor lost an orange cat, so I trooped next door to talk to a woman who lost an orange cat this summer, but he did not match Leo's description. The complicating factor is that the posters were for a cat lost in an area about ten miles from my house. However, I did not want to give up in the unlikely event that Leo is that cat.

Back at my house I called the town hall in the lost cat's town. Not open until 1:00 on Monday. I was supposed to meet my daughter at 1:00 when she left her car at a garage near her house. My daughter had called while I was out to say she would meet me there. I called the mechanic to say I would be late and my daughter might be late, but we were coming and not to give her slot away.

At 1:00 I called the lost cat's town hall. Yes, the woman remembered seeing the poster. No, she did not have one there. Someone else in the office said maybe there was one at the post office. I got that number and called there. Not open until 2:00. Small towns have a whole 'nother concept of time. It has taken some getting used to.

I met my daughter at the garage. Her car was already on the rack. The braking system light that comes on is not dangerous but needs to be fixed - the problem is that the mechanic has never seen that numbered code before and isn't sure what it means. We left the car in his capable hands.

Once at my daughter's house we each took a deep breath. It was only 2:00 and we felt like we'd been up for two days. Time for tea.

I called the other town's post office. Again, yes, she knew of the posters for the lost cat. No, she did not have a poster. She knew where one might be, and if she saw it on her way home she would call me and leave the phone number.

I called the humane society where my daughter got her cats. They could help me in a pinch, but I would have to surrender Leo to them for her to get checked out and vaccinated. I thanked the woman I talked to and hoped I could find Leo's owner soon. My daughter and I chatted about how strange things have been lately - missed connections and miscommunication. I did a bit of sewing, and it was time to get her car, which is in good shape but still needs another visit to fix the mysterious code.

Once back at my house, I hoped to find a message from the postal clerk about the poster. No message. What now? I told Ken the story, wracking my brain for any other places I could call. Bingo! In every town there is a "corner store" that everyone frequents. Sure enough, there was a store listed in the phone book. I called, talked to one more lovely woman who wanted to help, had seen the posters, but did not have one there. She went one step further and offered to make a "found cat" poster and list my phone number. Done.

Now I will wait for the dust to settle and the phone to ring.