Saturday, April 26, 2008

Blog Tutorial

Hello readers. If you are in Maine today, I hope you are enjoying the beautiful weather. Ken and I have plans to take a walk later.

To those of you who have been reading my posts, thank you. I have heard from some of you through phone calls, emails, and conversations over lunch. If you are new to this blog, my story begins with A Fresh Start.

People have asked me how to leave a comment. Before I started this blog I had little experience with blogs, and I had never left a comment. I have done a practice run myself to see exactly what shows up when you click on "comments." You are taken to a screen where you write your comment, type in a secure set of letters that are on the screen, and decide how you want to be identified. You can remain anonymous if you want to, which means only your comment appears and not any identifying information. If you have a gmail account you can type in your username and password, which means people who read your comment can email you if they want. Or you can leave only your name or leave your ID open. Then you can preview your comment before you post it, and you can decide not to post it if you change your mind.

You can comment on any of my posts at any time. It is an advantage for me if you leave a comment because I started this blog to connect with women. I would like to have a place where we share our ideas. I feel somewhat isolated because many of my friends live "away" and we rarely see each other. I love a good conversation, and if I have to start connecting through cyberspace, so be it.

Please continue to keep in touch in any way that is comfortable for you. If you'd rather email or call, that works for me, too. It helps to know I am not on this journey alone.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Thank You, Eckhart

I mentioned earlier that last fall I read The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. It was the right book at the right time for me. I couldn't get out of my own way. I was thinking in circles and didn't know how to stop. I didn't like where I was in my life, and I was terrified about where I was going. Eckhart Tolle had been in that same place. He changed his life and then wrote a book about it, hence The Power of Now. It is a how-to guide to transform your thinking and bring joy into your life. It is personal and practical, and I am now reading it for a second time.

Eckhart didn't plan to write a sequel, but a few years later another book needed to be written. His next book, A New Earth, teaches how personal transformation can transform the world. I bought the book and started reading. I found it more conceptual than the first book and harder to put into practice.

Enter Oprah. She recommended the book to her audience. Then she took the idea of a book club to a whole new level. Oprah started a series of talks with Eckhart Tolle on Monday nights and invited people all over the world to watch and participate. There were some technical problems with the first show, and I wasn't home the second Monday, so I put the series aside and continued reading. Then I discovered that the whole series of talks between Oprah and Eckhart can be found on Oprah's website. I watched the first chapter last night and the second chapter this morning. I am hooked.

Each conversation is an hour and a half long. Oprah and Eckhart talk abut the chapter, and people around the world ask questions that Oprah and Eckhart answer. They relate each chapter's topics with what they talked about the week before, without trying to cover every detail. I feel like I am listening in on two friends talking at their kitchen table over coffee. Their conversation helps me relate the ideas in the book to my own life. I would benefit from eaves- dropping even if I hadn't read the book first.

Again, this book came at the right time. I need to know that there is a way to think positively about the future of the world. I am an optimist. In the face of world events, it's tough to hold onto optimism about the future. Eckhart's books have provided the tools to change my own thinking and to think that the world can change, too. Thank you, Eckhart.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Last Three Rollers

Well, they're gone now. I just took the last three paint rollers out of the refrigerator. For over a year there have been rollers in the fridge, so many at one point that they took over an entire drawer. In the beginning it was a way to keep the rollers fresh and usable between coats of paint. I started keeping them beyond that in case I wanted to paint another coat at a future time. Then I kept two for the living room so I could touch up after the bookcases went in...and that project was finished in January.

It is time to move on. It is time to say enough - there are enough coats of paint on the walls and the work is good enough for now.

There is still painting to do. The laundry room and the railings around the deck need our attention this summer. The difference is that I don't need to keep everything at the ready for months before and after the work is done. There will always be painting to do.

The difference this April from last April is that I have other things to do, too. I don't need to escape into a paint can because I am anxious about the future or afraid to ask myself tough questions. A lot has changed in the last year. I predict more change in the year ahead.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

More Than Making Do

In recent days an old Yankee saying has been going through my mind ~ make do, do without, use it up, wear it out. I have always seen myself as a "make do" kind of gal, which is useful when creating Halloween costumes, making home repairs, eating all the leftovers, and keeping the bills paid. However, it's not useful when I expand my hopes for the future.

I did not know how to ask for more for myself. I have been uncomfortable thinking about what is possible if I do what I really want to do. Last fall I knew I was in trouble when I heard myself say that I would be more comfortable with failure than success. What is the message to the universe? That I expect to fail. What message am I sending myself? Do not expect much and I will not be disappointed.

All that I have learned over the past several months tells me that I have been going about this in the wrong way. I no longer need to ask for just enough because there is so much more. I can't begin to know what the universe has in store for me because I don't know the future. I can't plan for every eventuality because I don't know all that is possible. If I am open to whatever happens, then I open my life to more than I could ever imagine. The only limits are the ones I place on myself.

Friday, April 18, 2008

A Tribute to Marie

I lost a dear friend to lung cancer in November 2005. I have really missed her lately and sharing some thoughts about her life might help how I'm feeling.

I met Marie at a LaLeche League meeting after her first child was born. She talked about how her love of coffee milkshakes was fine while she was pregnant but it wasn't helping her lose the baby weight. She was funny and outgoing and someone I thought I'd like to know. I invited her to my house for coffee.

I still remember her first visit to my house, which she thought was very nice. She said how much she liked the nooks and crannies in older homes, especially the storage under the eaves. Marie and her husband were building a new house themselves, which wasn't an easy task. I thought of her often last summer as we wrangled with the newness of our house.

Marie and I shared pregnancies, first days of school, birthdays, anniversaries, and the events of everyday life. I taught her how to wallpaper. We shared hundreds of pots of coffee over the years. We promised each other we would always use boiling water from a kettle to make tea.

We shared a love of politics and frequently discussed the issues facing our country. We talked the night the first Gulf war started and couldn't believe that our country had gone to war over oil. Marie called me the morning of September 11, 2001 and told me to turn on the television - a plane had just crashed into the Twin Towers.

Marie liked movies as much as I did, but she didn't want to see violence and would often ask me if I thought she'd like a film. Neither one of us had seen "Schindler's List" so we agreed to watch it when it came on television and talk at the commercial break. I called her but she wasn't watching - at the last minute she thought it would be too hard.

Marie loved to drive and to travel. She was always on the go and liked to have things to do. She loved the family she had and the family she came from. As a special education teacher, she went to the mat for her students. She was a good teacher, and she encouraged me when I first thought about returning to school for a teaching degree. We talked often about how to make schools better and how to best serve our students.

Marie would try anything once. She made the first t-shirt quilt I ever saw, although she learned afterward that her daughter wasn't through wearing all the shirts. Marie skied and hiked and was at home in a tent or a hotel. She had lots of friends. People loved Marie.

I felt fortunate to share time with Marie the year before she died. One afternoon we talked about how different we were. I said I feared I was a high-maintenance friend, and she assured me I wasn't. I could be intense, and Marie usually understood. She held so many of my stories and knew me so well that I knew I would miss her desperately. Marie talked about letting go of her fear.

I have often been fearful over the past year. Marie and I would talk about that. I don't know exactly how the conversation would go, but I imagine we would talk about all the things right with our lives and how lucky we are. Life is miraculous and each day is a gift. We could agree that it's time to let go of the fear and move on.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

In Good Company

I am a discriminating Oprah viewer. I do not watch every show but choose based on guest and topic. The show on April 16 satisfied both criteria - Maria Shriver on how she doesn't know what she wants to be when she grows up.

I have been a fan of Maria Shriver since I was a girl. She is my age, and I watched her grow up as part of the Kennedy clan. Her mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, is sister to John, Robert, and Ted. I envied her life of politics, affluence, and extended family. Then Maria became a journalist who traveled and reported important stories. She married Arnold and thought, as she shared yesterday, that she had married into a life far from politics where she could work hard in her chosen profession. That all changed when he was elected governor of California and she lost her job due to her new title of First Lady. She lost who she thought she was; she didn't know how to define herself. She shared thoughts about this time in her life in an eloquent speech at The Women's Conference in September 2006. If you've read this far, please use the link to read her speech. Her words resonated with me. My first thought was that I'm in good company.

My second thought was that if Maria Shriver is questioning who she is and what she wants then I am in the right "place" at the right time. This is the time in my life to ask those questions. If not now, when? Circumstances provided the opportunity for me to stop the busyness so I can think about my life and what's next. I am no longer spinning. And in the quiet I now enjoy I can ask what matters to me.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Beauty of Quilts

Over the course of the twenty-eight years we lived in the city, I periodically went through drawers, closets, and the cellar asking, "What would I keep if we moved?" It helped keep me honest to a point, but it wasn't real. I would organize and clean out and keep a lot of what I went through, especially fabric.

My mom taught me to sew at an early age and made me beautiful dresses until I started sewing for myself. I started making my own clothes when I was 14. Girls were not permitted to wear pants to school, so I would find a basic dress pattern and make my school clothes. In high school I also made slacks and simple jackets. I kept all the scraps in a box. The summer before I started college I made myself a quilt.

Quilts were a tradition in my family. I grew up with dark heavy quilts my great-grandmother made from recycled woolen work clothes. The quilts were pieced from irregular shapes, backed with flannel or wool, and tied with heavy thread. These were functional household items that kept us warm and made great forts in the house or yard.

I made that first quilt with a variety of fabrics cut into sqares. I matched four squares of one fabric with five of another to create nine-squares. Then I sewed those together, backed the top with a lime-green gingham sheet, lined it with a sheet blanket, and tied it with green embroidery floss. My family still uses this quilt.

Over the years I've made quilts of wool, knit, flannel, and cotton, where the size of the quilt depends on what scraps I have left of a certain fabric. I have always been able to create some form of pattern for these practical, basic quilts that are tied with thread. Nothing is wasted and the result is something that can be enjoyed for years.

This past Christmas I made each of my sons a quilt from t-shirts they no longer wear but couldn't bear to part with. Like so many things, the shirts surfaced during our move. Also found was a box of 672 corduroy squares cut from scraps over the past 34 years. A year after our move I decided that it was time to make them into a quilt, which presented a unique problem. I had too many designs and not enough squares of each to create a pattern. I like to lay things out and know what the end product will look like. I like things to be even and symmetrical. What was I going to do?

Each of the quilts I have made represents a period in my life. Upon reflection I decided that this corduroy quilt could represent my life after the move to the country, which is rich with color and texture while it is uneven and asymmetrical. I can plan small sections, but I have no idea what the final product will look like.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Leave a Message

Last night I made 74 phone calls for the Maine Democratic Party. I've gotten involved in local politics and that includes making calls to registered voters. We have an important US Senate race in Maine - Democrat Tom Allen is challenging Republican Susan Collins. The calls last night were to find out who democrats are supporting, but half were answered by an answering machine. My guess is that most of those machines are always on.

I am a phone person. The phone is my tool of first resort. I can find the answer to any question and solve any problem over the phone. I always answer the phone if I'm home, and I like to talk.
Our family did not own an answering machine before our move to the country. We never needed one. When the children were young I was always home, and when I went back to work I didn't have time to return calls that came while I was gone. When the children were home the phone rarely went unanswered, though messages were not always relayed. Ken is not a phone person, except for work or to talk to his children.

Well, we have an answering machine now. Somewhere along the way cell phones replaced email as the way to communicate with our children, and they started asking where we were all the time. So we resorted to an answering machine which, as my children say, brought us into the 21st century. It's fun to come home to find the red light flashing, especially if it's the voice of a friend or family member on the other end. And I always call back.

So if you call and I'm home, I will answer the phone. If I'm out, please leave a message.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Let the Light Shine In

A year after our move, we have settled in enough to enjoy the house with its space and light.

The living room is on the second floor on the front of the house ~

Off the living room are the second bedroom and full bathroom. We had bookcases built ~

With the open floorplan, the kitchen is open to the living room ~

I love the color of my daffodil yellow kitchen. The door leads to a deck on the side of the house ~

The master bedroom is off the kitchen ~

And the master bedroom has its own bathroom (big change from a house with one bathroom)~

The sitting/guest room is on the ground floor with the laundry room and family room ~
The laundry room also has a bathroom with a shower ~

The family room is on the front of the house. Family artwork is in the lefthand corner. Out of sight in the righthand corner is my ever-present sewing machine ~

Despite all the challenges of the move to the country, Ken and I have always had a sense of calm here. It's quiet. It's removed. The cable company refuses to run cable this far down our dirt road. We would have to cut down several trees to get satellite, so we are using an antenna. Last summer we rediscovered how to listen to baseball games on the radio.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Change was Coming

I am a planner. Ken and I set our wedding date over a year before we were married, which was unnecessary in 1976. Each of my pregnancies was planned. And I prepared for months each time I went back to school. The lack of preparation for our move to the country was unusual for me, so from the beginning I felt unsettled.

The good news was that we did not need to paint the exterior of the house. The interior was 95% finished, though we needed to paint each room and all the woodwork. Ken and I spent nine days from sun-up to midnight smoothing, prepping, and painting walls. Then I begged off my classes and internship for another week to finish enough to move in.

We spent a week-end moving furniture and boxes, but we left a lot at the old house because our daughter was staying there. She had gotten her first choice for residency, which was in the same city. She moved in as we were moving out, though neither task was finished for months. Then she decided to buy the house, and I was delighted. I always felt that house had taken care of our family and felt that it would take care of her.

Unpacking took months. We had little storage so things we put in use or passed on. We wanted to make the house presentable because we had an occasion to celebrate ~ our daughter's graduation from medical school was June 2. It was such an accomplishment and we were so proud! A small reception to celebrate was the first time we had guests in our new home.

Then life settled into a routine of sorts: I went to work and came home to unpack boxes, organize closets and cupboards, seal floors, paint ceilings, paint "miles" of woodwork, and finish any number of small projects as they came up. I missed my old house and my yard ~ we had finally finished redecorating and landscaping. I missed the neighbors and neighborhood. I felt out of place, physically and emotionally. A lifetime of memories belonged to another place. I kept thinking that if I just had time I could get a handle on life in a new place.

When our youngest left for college, Ken and I talked about what it would be like to be "just us" again. I looked forward to the freedom. For some reason I thought I would become all the things I had never been: more outgoing, less of a perfectionist, more easygoing, less serious, more confident. I could be and do anything I wanted. Instead, once we moved, I fixated on all the things I wasn't and all the things I couldn't do. Night sweats returned. After each restless night I awoke anxious and worried. I was not happy. One Friday on my drive home from work I promised myself that if anything big happened I would make changes in my life.

The next morning my mother called. She had had a stroke and was in the hospital. I wanted to be with her, so I flew to West Virginia. My only focus for a week was being with her and my stepfather. I slept well and felt at ease for the first time in months. My mom improved with the right medication, and we enjoyed the time we had together. Once she was home, she started physical therapy. (Today she is back to work and doing well.)

I flew home on July 1. Two weeks later I gave 30-days notice at work. My supervisors were gracious when I explained that the job wasn't what I thought it would be. I wasn't myself and needed time to regroup.

There is a saying: Be careful what you ask for because you may get it. By mid-August I had all the time I needed to paint, organize, clean, and make our new house a home. I didn't feel better. My body continued to betray me with night sweats, anxiety attacks, and lost weight. Massage therapy had been a mainstay in my life for more than a decade and was a godsend during this time. I had started acupuncture in January for a cold I couldn't kick and continued with treatments for my other symptoms.

I have always been a reader. Now I felt desparate for answers. My daughter had loaned me Conversations with God and I picked it up when I was at my lowest point. I didn't read far before it became obvious that I was not helping myself with my desire to become someone else, someone different from who I had always been. The key to feeling better was to accept myself, to love myself. A friend recommended The Power of Now, which was the perfect book about living in the present moment and accepting whatever happens. Then I read Eat, Pray, Love, a book about one woman's journey through major life changes. Her story encouraged me to move forward in the exploration of who I am and what I want.

The process of acceptance has been slow. I literally checked in with Ken that he would love me through all the changes to come, and he says he will. I started writing in a journal again and found the same theme from three years earlier: how do I make space for myself in my own life?

I do not have the answer yet but I have started asking the question.

Moving to the new house changed my life. I find myself in unfamiliar territory and have to find a way to make it work. My house with light and open space is a metaphor for shining light on all aspects of my life and bringing all that I am into the open. This online journal is part of that process.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Fresh Start

The concept of a fresh start is a good one. It's the implementation that gets tricky. My husband, Ken, and I made a fresh start in May 1978 when we moved to Maine from Maryland. The first six months were hard for me because I was terribly homesick. Then, in October, we bought a house, and the world opened up with possibilities. I got a new job and made friends. And we decided to start a family.

Twenty-eight years later our youngest son started college. The house had been paid off for three years. I was finishing an MSW degree and planning to start a new career. The house was the right size for the two of us again. Things were tight when our grown children came home to visit, but we were used to sharing the bathroom and joked about how we would handle gatherings as significant others and grandchildren joined our family.

Over the years we had considered moving and always dismissed the idea. I liked living in the city where everything was close by, often within walking distance. The children were able to get to and from school and activities easily, and we were surrounded by helpful neighbors. All the major roads ran through our city, so we could literally get anywhere from home. I didn't want to move. I was in no way prepared for what was about to unfold.

Ken and I had played the "what if we moved" game before and never found a house that tempted us to get serious. In January 2007 winter was in full swing, and we were bored with the cold and snow. One week-end we took a long drive toward the coast, through a dozen towns in the mid-coast area. We discovered that realtors posted listings on the internet and spent hours looking at properties. Then we went a step further and made an appointment to look at a house, which turned out to be nothing we were interested in. We started evaluating more seriously the houses that were on the market. I had many conditions that had to be met before I would even consider the possibility of moving.

We looked at three more houses and, as different as they were, they did not fill the bill. We made an appointment to look at one more the first Saturday in February. I was feeling confident that it was not what we wanted and thought we had exhausted most of our options. Ken and I talked about continuing to look only as long as it was fun and agreed we would not go to extreme measures to make a move. We needed to satisfy our curiosity so we could settle back down with the house we had.

As we drove up the driveway, my confidence weakened. The house was surrounded by trees and quiet, yet we were just minutes from the highway. I never thought I wanted a modern house, but we walked into a newly built house that was filled with light and space. The house had more than twice the space of our current home, and it was all living space. My head was spinning.

Ken and I needed to talk, so we stopped for coffee on the way home. We made a pro and con list and talked for hours. The positives far outweighed the negatives. We needed to see it again, so we made a second appointment for the next day. The rest, as they say, is history. We moved in on March 24, 2007.

So we had another fresh start, one that we didn't expect. What I didn't realize was that the new house was just the beginning of many changes to come.