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
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


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.