Parenting, Uncategorized

Looking for Light

There are so many little things that are on my mind, things that December has dredged up. I’ve been thinking about people we miss, ones who have passed, and others we only get to see briefly in person, and the energy they leave behind or change in us. We each release an essence, one that lingers with people we meet and share this life with, which can evoke memories and feelings and jolt us backwards and forwards remembering, hoping, and learning. It can light a fire in us, energize us, deplete us, show us our best selves, or leave us wanting more. It can spotlight our loneliness, too, and remind us how much we need people we can relate to, who see us, and who care. 

I’ve been thinking about people we miss, ones who have passed, and others we only get to see briefly in person, and the energy they leave behind or change in us.

Like so many I was deeply struck by the loss of Twitch, The Ellen Show’s DJ and dancer, and the tribute Executive Producer Andy Lassner wrote has stayed with me. I only watched the show a dozen or so times, but this lovely man sparkled as he moved his body artfully and effortlessly down the aisle all the while flashing that bright smile. You were always left wanting more of this goodness and light. If he always had it, surely we could muster this magic too? We need each other’s light and joy, especially during those times when we can’t find our own. We need dancers, singers, painters and writers, we need those willing to reveal themselves and show us our own. We need to harness the brightness and fill up on this fuel and lighten all our loads. Here are Andy’s words:

“So many people on social media are posting pictures of themselves with Twitch, talking about their close friendships with him, talking about the texts they exchanged with him just last week. Talking about the conversation they once had with him. The thing is – it’s all true. It’s all real. Those who knew him are not trying to make this tragedy about themselves, they are just trying to convey to you who Twitch was. He made everything about you. He made you feel like the most important person in the world. And he did this for everybody. Not just the people he needed or that were “important”. He did it for everybody. It doesn’t sound real. But it is. All of it. He was everyone’s friend. He really did care for every single person who worked at the show and everyone in his life. And the thing is if you met him just once – you felt that feeling. That light. That’s why I think you and I are hurting. Because we all counted on him. He was our flame. Our joy. Our dancer. There was a heavy burden that none of us realized he was carrying. He must have been so tired. But we didn’t know because he never wanted it to be about him. Ever. So now we can either spend all of our time wondering why and how and never being satisfied with the answers we imagine. Or we can focus on being grateful for the gift he gave us by allowing us to take light from his flame. The thing is that light still burns in us. All of us. Let’s try and share that light with the people we love. It’s really all we can do. And that’s enough. It’s more than enough.”

This last week brought Christmas and with it, like it does every year, expectations and effort, excitement, exhaustion, and emotion. Family came together and then broke off into smaller bits, two leaving on a ski trip and two staying behind, my older son Ben and I the ones staying put. He has work to return to and I particularly enjoy the art of homebodying in the days between Christmas and New Year’s, when that sleepy sweet Christmas dust lingers and the tree seems lighter, relieved to reveal the draped skirt underneath it again, and with everything done, it’s more than okay to just go take a nap. I also had ambitious plans for Ben and me–tennis, bowling, a walk into downtown Decatur for drinks and dinner–but the reality is there’s never enough time nor is a 20-something going to dedicate a huge chunk of it to spend with his mom. I try to remember my own self in my 20s and friends, not mom, were naturally top of the list where they should be. I am learning if you quit trying so hard, the moments come, and if you can just stop and notice, you’re likely in one. 

It’s been a good visit with Ben. It left me remembering him, his sweet spirit and our dynamic that I notice best when it’s just us. In my ongoing cleanup attempts, I had set aside some boxes I’d pulled from under his bed, all the stuff you keep from school and sports. He went to work on what turned out to be an interesting exploration of memories, culling the collection down to two boxes, and left a pile to toss. In my closet I found a big box of my mom’s sewing things–colorful spools of thread, her signature strawberry pin cushion, seam rippers and measuring tapes. There was her old coin purse too and inside were the sweetest tags she’d stitched into the many handmade things she sewed. How I miss her infectious enthusiasm, spontaneity, and creativity. Ben got a kick out of all these things, and on this particular visit back home, was fascinated to learn that his paternal great grandmother, too, was a seamstress. Is it nature instead of nurture showing her strengths here? 

It was unscripted time, the best kind where you get things done, are on separate floors and don’t need to talk, but return to one another filled up and ready to share. We talked about his sewing projects, items he’s selling and others he’s planning to create. We examined the bag he made me for Christmas which was just as I’d hoped, warm grey upcycled leather, a central zipper, greco tag inside, and a generous pouch for my wallet and cellphone and keys and maybe a lipstick. It looked like a croissant. I love croissant and I love the bag, especially since it’s lovingly handmade by Ben. We talked about New York and my plans to visit in February when a group of ladies I’ve met online are gathering.

Later that afternoon he went out with a friend, and we decided after he got back, we would go bowling, but he called the bowling alley and they had a long wait and another one wasn’t open, so we were disappointed. I was hoping he’d come home, and we’d have dinner together, one of those great moments I’d tried to orchestrate, but the reality was he was in Duluth with friends and having a ball, so I said, “Just be safe and I’ll see you later.” I lit a fire and lit a candle, and I laid down on the couch and went in and out of sleep, listening to a podcast, giving myself permission to have my own wonderful time. 

While he was gone, I boiled some more water (we’d been on a boil water advisory in our county) and then went into his room to find a tangled mess of Christmas gift cards and comforters and other post-holiday loot you’d expect. I cleared the bed and made it up, filled a new water bottle with boiled water, and got the room to a reasonable state where if you got in late you wouldn’t have this mess on your hands. I also put a space heater in there because he’d said he was cold the night before. Downstairs, the cats were still sleeping, and I looked up at the tree again, something I’ve done multiple times over the course of this month. It’s been a reliable source of beauty and peace since we got it late November, and only now is it starting to drop a few needles. It’s just lovely. Still.

Ben returned and we were up another few hours talking and getting him packed up. We each set our alarm for 5am and then went to sleep. Barely four hours later but right on schedule there was the alarm, and I hit snooze for those delicious extra few minutes I always steal. I could hear Ben’s go off too (he’s right across the hall from my door), and moments later he was in my room standing at the foot of my bed marveling at the kitties who were sprawled out and sleeping. I slid over and opened the covers and he laid down with me. We cuddled together in the warmth trying to stay really still so the cats wouldn’t move. Ben had on the robe I’d bought for Christmas, a beautiful soft plaid one I picked up at the last minute. I presented it as a gift Santa left for whichever boy in the house wanted it, and Ben quickly claimed it. We talked in the dark for a little longer and then the alarm sounded again, and it was time. 

While he packed up his last few items, I went downstairs to toast the biscuits I’d made on Christmas, buttering them and tucking a little honey baked ham in each. I made coffee too. Ben said he’s been drinking Eight O’Clock coffee at home, but he really liked the Pete’s we’ve been having each morning, so I made us a pot of Pete’s, filled some to go mugs, filled our water bottles, and we set out for the airport in the pitch-black dark. I left the tree lights on so we could look at it when we drove past. Ben wanted to drive but he also wanted to eat his biscuits, so we agreed I would. Once at Hartsfield (what we native Atlantans call the airport) I moved into the far-right departures lane, but with such heavy traffic, we had to stop just shy of the canopy. I got out with Ben, gave him a big hug, and he headed inside. 

I made my way back home, a tiny, tired motorist under the enormous dark sky, and kept driving toward the sunrise, east on I-20, then exiting and getting on College Avenue continuing east to Church Street past Scottdale and into a little subdivision where the sun peaked out. I watched it for a few minutes, then turned back around toward home to the still sparkling tree and quiet. I laid down on the couch with the cats and drifted in and out of sleep.

In between little bits of sleep I opened up Delta’s flight tracker to find Ben. You really sleep well when you know where they are, your heart walking outside of you. My younger son, Evan, is with Joe–they’re probably going to start the day soon on the slopes–and Ben has just landed, so everyone’s accounted for. I’m still gonna doze ‘cause I’ve gotten up at 5am the last two mornings, one morning to send off the skiers, and this morning to send off Ben. 

The couch wasn’t comfortable, and I needed a real bed. Ben’s room is the sunniest of all and the only one with an extra heat source in it now, so I slid into his bed and the cats followed me. The sun was so bright, it was hard to sleep, but I managed to rest before getting a shower. Even though you have to boil the water to drink it, you can shower in it, but just need to keep your mouth shut. Life lessons from boil water advisories: just keep your mouth shut. 

Next, I was off to see my former Slovakian tenants who’d invited me for coffee and cookies, Their house is like a bright shiny IKEA catalogue, all their gifts are wrapped with fabric, their floors are bleached, cookies aren’t too sweet but lovingly made from scratch, and the coffee is piping hot. The kids are darling, and I love the warmth in their parents’ bright eyes. Their energy is peaceful and kind, and I brought them some of my homemade granola and eggnog. 

The fumes from Christmas are only slightly still in the air, but the fatigue has set in from going going going, and I’m glad I’ve let myself be still. The house is mine for three more days, and I’m going to bask in the silence. I doubt a TV will go on and there’s no one to talk to, no one to feed, just the silence, me, and the tree. 

Inspiration, Taste the Season, Uncategorized

Do You Hear What I Hear ?

Here we are again at the end of another year and it’s Christmastime. Let’s set aside the shopping, baking, and sparkling baubles for a moment and ponder a familiar seasonal conundrum. Why didn’t we finish all the things we set out to do or at least make an appreciable dent in moving along that elusive path we’re on? By December, the year-long cacophony of what ifs and why nots has achieved a tormenting hold. If you strip away the pageantry of Christmas, we’re still just us trying to carve out and extract the best from this life we’ve been given, and it’s simply the end of another year. What was I expecting? I didn’t do much differently this year, though I AM still alive (no small feat). Was I honestly counting on the year to press out all those wrinkles, and now that it’s December, am I really going to STILL fixate on them? ‘Tis the season of trying to wrap it all up with a pretty bow, I suppose. 

Darkness and light

I do love this time of year. The air is crisper and the lights are brighter–little twinkly smiles that beam at you from inside windows–and there’s a big ball of hope and love that swells up so full you think it might just burst. For me, this joyful yuletide crescendo continues until sometime around Christmas night, after all has been unwrapped and revealed and then things deflate, leaving behind a gentle return to life as it was, in many ways a welcome relief. Each season, we get this glittery December window in which to dispense this magic over others, but the window is narrow, producing an urgency to harness it and spread it, but hopefully saving some for yourself. Of course, the window is actually as wide as we make it and we’ve got a full 365 days to work with.

My siblings and me Christmas morning in the ’60s.

Christmas isn’t just a calendar day or a season, it’s a billowy set of sails that charts our course for December and beyond. By the twelfth month, before us is a rich end-of-year stew–chock full of different ingredients, some quiet and lovely, sunny or lonely, some full of remembrance and yearning, dreaming or improving. When we’re young, this season takes forever to get here, but when it finally does, it brings weeks of anticipation with which to plan and savor. As adults we set about intentionally mining for that magic that only Christmas can bring. The season moves at rapid speed and that fairy-tale attention once placed on you now lives inside you, yours to harness and give, though at the end of a tough year, you wonder sometimes if it will even appear. When you least expect it, however, you find yourself pulling from way down deep to do something nice for someone, and you keep doing it again and again. THIS is Christmas.

Walking through our city’s botanical garden recently, I felt some of the magic, but it was a diluted strain and not the intimate experience I’d treasured years earlier under this same canopy of twinkly trees. The last time I came here acapella carolers’ drifting wintry notes drew me in, and I moved in closer to sing with them. These sounds brought sweetness out of the dark and filled me with a renewed appreciation for familiar carols I will forever know the words to. On this night I’d wanted the sparkle to grab my hand, and lead me into the season. Instead, I just saw lights, albeit choreographed spectacular ones, which seemed more fact than emotion. As I meandered along to piped-in familiar songs—The Nutcracker Suite, New York, and All I Want for Christmas is You—the music swallowed up any traces of silence I’d hoped to get lost in or those quiet conversations you hear along a path. It was an orchestrated noise you could hear, see, and even taste if you were willing to stretch your budget further. Directional signs led people to lines for s’mores kits and marshmallow roasting stations, light necklaces, and other tempting extras for purchase, but for us our entry ticket was enough. Off the main path was a tiny Christmas village around which an electric train circled, which I found mesmerizing.

A Christmas choo-choo

It must be my brain, noisy in all seasons, that craves the quiet, that prefers the sound of snowfall versus sled blades cutting the ice, an intimate conversation over a pulsing party, acapella singing under the stars to brightly lit choirs. Thankfully I’ve got a detailed loop in my head that can recall past merry moments, but I’ve gotten better at noticing which bits soothe and inspire me. It gets noisy starting in Halloween and ramps up until the new year, but if you work at it, you can extract a version that works for you.

These are a few of my favorite things in no particular order:

Lucie in her element

❄️That first snow falling softly and your dog pressing her paws in it, incredulous, as if it appeared solely for her wonder and enjoyment.

❄️A fresh boxwood wreath on your door

❄️Children peeking from the top of the stairs ready to bundle down the steps and discover their surprises

❄️Ball jars of eggnog chilling in the refrigerator, gifts for delivery later

Biscotti

❄️Caroling with neighbors.

❄️Silent night sung by candlelight at church on Christmas Eve

❄️The sight and smell of cranberry pistachio biscotti cooking 

❄️Newscasters on Christmas eve reporting Santa sightings

❄️It’s a Wonderful Life, the movie.

❄️It’s a Wonderful Life, the experience.

❄️A fresh cut fraser fir stretching out its branches and feeling at home in your living room.

❄️Noticing your tree is drinking water and filling it up every morning. 

❄️Stringing lights on your tree and then running outside to see the pretty view from the street.

Important post for Mr. “Claws”

❄️Stuffing holiday cards into a nearly full post box. 

❄️Taking your children to the PO to drop off a letter to Santa in the North Pole

❄️Grocery store lines and talking with strangers about the meals they’re planning.

❄️Christmas Eve night when all the packages are wrapped and there’s nothing else to do but look around and soak it all in.

❄️Wishing strangers a Merry Christmas

❄️Letting the tired mom in the minivan with a Rudolph nose and antlers cut you off in traffic. 

Christmas comes on little cat feet

❄️Finding coins to give the Salvation Army bell ringers. 

❄️Finding bills to give a homeless person on the ramp to the interstate.

❄️Wintry pillows and pets who snuggle.

❄️Ornaments you’ve never loved but grew up with which you now appreciate and carefully hang. 

❄️Champagne and clam chowder on Christmas Eve.

❄️Sweet rolls Christmas morning. 

❄️Realizing how much time and energy your parents gave to make your holidays as special as they were.

❄️Christmas Eve brunch with your best girlfriends. 

❄️Finding the perfect gift for someone and beautifully wrapping it.

❄️Opening your mail to find Christmas cards, some with a heartfelt handwritten personal note. 

Thank you for the best day ever!

❄️A living room strewn with wrapping paper Christmas morning and your cats joyfully romping in it.

❄️Going to bed Christmas Eve knowing you gave your very best and excited to watch it all unfold in a few hours.

❄️Your dog gnawing a bone from her stocking and beaming lovingly at you in gratitude.

❄️Cats on their sides humping their catnip toys, dizzy with delight

❄️Napping Christmas afternoon sleepy from mimosas and sweet rolls and secrets that finally got unwrapped

❄️A Christmas cactus that has bloomed 

❄️A paper white narcissus, standing tall and thin, blissfully unaware of its glorious scent.

My neighborhood is going to sing carols again like they did last year which was my first time participating. For any locals who want to join me, please reach out. It’s on Sunday the 18th. Here’s a sampling from December ’21:

The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.

Nothing is perfect but trying to watch the chaotic tennis match between past and future Christmases only robs you of this Christmas. Believing the purpose of the end of another year is for all to be solved feels short-sighted and shallow and surely sets you up for failure. Instead, I believe our takeaway should be simply, “All is calm all is bright.” Remember? From the song? As the following clever poem illustrates, the power just might reside in our lungs of all places. 

My brain and heart divorced a decade ago over who was to blame about how big of a mess I have become. Eventually, they couldn’t be in the same room with each other. Now my head and heart share custody of me. I stay with my brain during the week and my heart gets me on weekends. They never speak to one another; instead, they give me the same note to pass to each other every week, and their notes they send to one another always say the same thing: “This is all your fault”

On Sundays my heart complains about how my head has let me down in the past and on Wednesday my head lists all of the times my heart has screwed things up for me in the future. They blame each other for the state of my life. There’s been a lot of yelling – and crying so, lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time with my gut who serves as my unofficial therapist. Most nights, I sneak out of the window in my ribcage and slide down my spine and collapse on my gut’s plush leather chair that’s always open for me and I just sit sit sit sit until the sun comes up. Last evening, my gut asked me if I was having a hard time being caught between my heart and my head. I nodded. I said I didn’t know if I could live with either of them anymore. “My heart is always sad about something that happened yesterday while my head is always worried about something that may happen tomorrow,” I lamented. My gut squeezed my hand.

“I just can’t live with my mistakes of the past or my anxiety about the future,” I sighed. My gut smiled and said: “In that case, you should go stay with your lungs for a while,” I was confused, the look on my face gave it away. “If you are exhausted about your heart’s obsession with the fixed past and your mind’s focus on the uncertain future, your lungs are the perfect place for you. There is no yesterday in your lungs, there is no tomorrow there either. There is only now. There is only inhale, there is only exhale, there is only this moment. There is only breath, and in that breath you can rest while your heart and head work their relationship out.”

This morning, while my brain was busy reading tea leaves and while my heart was staring at old photographs, I packed a little bag and walked to the door of  my lungs. Before I could even knock, she opened the door with a smile and as a gust of air embraced me she said, “What took you so long?”

   ~ John Roedel (johnroedel.com)

Did You Know? The happiest healthiest trees are ones that are sung to. I made this up, but give it a whirl anyway. xoxox
Uncategorized

Two down, looking up.

It’s here! November 21. Finally, and forever in my head as a threshold I get to cross: the day I had that lumpectomy surgery. I had already put this day behind me when I was wheeled into that operating room two years ago, and now, I am grateful and looking forward.

Here I am. I’ve hit two years and then there’ll be three, five and that mother of all finish lines, ten, where they’ll hand me a “cured” ribbon. You don’t really get a ribbon, I don’t think, but, actually better, you get to drop off of your oncologist’s schedule. If there is a ribbon, I picture it a bright sunny yellow one vs pink and screaming all kinds of hope and happy. The pink doesn’t do that for me. Blood can be pink, Pepto Bismol is pink, calamine lotion is pink, and at the center of the storm, nipples, are pink, unless you radiate them 21 times, and then they turn closer to the color of your skin. Yellow, however, is hope, the sun, happy lemonade on a summer day, my hair keeping my head warm, the color of urine when it’s telling you to hydrate more, the circle of French knots in the center of a daisy. I vote yellow.

For this award, there are people to thank:

General gratitude goes out to people who show kindness. The nurses have it going on. The one standing close to my feet while I was getting biopsied initially, who took it upon herself to lovingly stroke my ankles and drape a warm towel over them. The others, who during office visits continue to hear me and my endless concerns, and help me get to the answers I need. The others during chemo who, like labor and delivery nurses, treat you like a queen when you didn’t think you needed or deserved it, and then like a regular person when you most do. They listen to your wired incessant jokes, as the steroids you’ve had to take for days surge through your veins, and they really laugh, the belly kind when you know you’ve struck a chord with someone. The ones who, after chemo and radiation is through, nudge you to ring that bell, and gather others around to cheer you on, noisemakers in hand, beaming ’til their sweet faces must hurt, and then sending you on your way. 

Hair stylists have it, too. When you go in with a crazy combination of long strung out strands and new little sprouts appearing on your scalp, and you leave with a legitimate cut, you know there are angels out there. You return every few months to lessen the gulf between long hair and short and, two years in, it’s just a head of hair now, like everyone else.

The friends you either don’t know well or else don’t see often, but who know what happened. They see me now and they always seem happy that they can. I worry, sometimes, if my brand is too bright, if this little health emergency I had to tend to might forever define me. Sometimes when I see these people, I wonder if there’s a little curiosity going on, like I’ve had myself with the few people I knew who had “it.” Maybe it’s a little hesitation to stand too close to that lady who saw things. Did she see a white light, you know getting so near to the other side? What were they like, those bags of poison, four of which ran through her veins?  Did she lose hair everywhere, I mean, even down there? And what has become of that poor boob, now that the show is over and the scaffolding has been removed? Is this girl now cloaked in a hopeful gratitude blanket skipping along pink meadows through her journey, or does that why did this happen to me bitterness ever come calling? To which I can answer: I was of course joking about a white light. The IV hurt like any IV does going in, but as for the poison itself, you wouldn’t know that’s what you’re getting. Days later, though, it definitely brought skin and taste and stomach annoyances as it worked its magic. Hair left all the different parts of my body in waves and returned in a similar staggered fashion, but now it’s all back and glorious. The boob is just dandy, thank you very much, and all things considered, seems quite normal and happy for its future still here with me. Gratitude is brighter and I literally must stop and smell every rose I see.  And I do. The small stuff, however, can definitely still grate on my nerves, but any bitter taste in my mouth, literally from chemo and figuratively from all this existential stuff I’ve been wading through, has given way to staying on the hunt for improvements in every area of my life. 

To those individuals, friends of mine, not naming names, but you know who you are, you did things, good things, that I won’t forget. 

-You were with me when I got the call, and only had love – not worry – on your face when I later told you.

-You sent emails telling me I was on your mind.

-You bought cards and mailed them to me, sweet words lifting me up, cards I’ll always keep. 

-You hugged me tight, that yummy long embrace that came out of nowhere, but I so needed, and which still lingers.

-You thoughtfully read my blog and commented, cheered me on, sometimes even remembering important milestones I was about to meet. 

-You helped me get curious about meditation even though, like my only occasional church visits, I’m a sometimes meditator. Still, you let me break down and cry and sent me home with some wonderful books, each with its own accessible, healing approach.

-You cooked for me, all of it handmade with love: chicken with broccoli, kale stew, broiled shrimp and roasted vegetables, vegetable and kale soup.

– You were going through your own similar slice of hell at the same time, yet you were open to meeting me and sharing your story with me over coffee, emails and visits, and we got to root each other on.

-You sent flowers and sweet notes.

-You called.

-You sent love in a blanket with hopeful words embellished in its fabric.

-You sent socks with treads on them that I still wear, ginger lozenges for chemo, special shampoos and other helpful goodies you lovingly researched to carry me.

-You joined me on some of those 21 days, walking to radiation, the six miles there and back. What fun that was noticing things, catching up, laughing too.

-You went to a long day of chemo with me where we hunkered down and where you helped ice my fingers and toes, so chemo’s poison wouldn’t bring on neuropathy. We caught up, killed the time, and we lunched, and I learned that this is what friends do. 

-You checked in.

-You showed up. 

-You loved me as if nothing had changed.

To my family: you continue to dilute my worries and reset me in the direction of everything’s going to be okay. Two of you flew down to be with me for my last chemo. How special that was! Another one of you sat with me and watched TV as I lolled in bed wrung out from that one beast of a nausea episode. You walked with me to radiation that gorgeous early spring day. You all continue supporting and encouraging me as I’ve changed things up and largely lessened my alcohol intake, dropped beef off my menu, and continue to try and make healthier choices. For those of you who pray, you prayed. All of you loved me and listened and cared, and you still do. I know this has been a long haul, exhausting for you, too, but you went through this with me, and we came out the other side together, now with two years under our belts. Now, it’s that much farther behind all of us, thank god, and thank 💛you💛 from the bottom of my heart. 

Uncategorized

Toast Points

This morning, I attended a virtual Creative Mornings event titled Street Wisdom, the idea being a little tune-up we can all give ourselves, this first one guided by David Pearl, author at http://www.streetwisdom.org. We were given three tasks:

The light

1) Look around where you are. What attracts you and what doesn’t? I looked up from my bed from where I was participating–I determined my bedroom’s cream curtains made for a better Zoom background as opposed to the construction plastic draped from the ceiling in the other option for a Zoom call–and settled my eyes on a lamp on my dresser. This lamp and I go way back, 50+ years, actually. It was in my room growing up and always on my dresser, and now it sits on a different dresser wearing a new linen shade. The lamp base is the same, and offers a reliable consistency, like a good friend does, who knew you way back when. How is it that this pretty pink English calico lamp came to mind and into view? It attracts me on so many levels: its beauty, elegance, quietness and femininity, and especially its connection to my childhood and that little girl who walked up to it every day as she rifled through her dresser for something to wear, barely noticing it, really. It has stayed exactly the same while everything around it has changed. These artifacts from my past validate that this other life I had–which seems as if from a fading dream–really existed. The parents I had who left me nearly three decades ago, my mother who likely purchased this lamp. Was it for her living room initially, or was it always bought with her younger daughter in mind? If this lamp could talk, what would it tell my earlier self? It sits there ever so steady and peaceful; I want even a fraction of its unflappable grace. All the moves I’ve made, all the tabletops it’s sat on, the people who’ve touched it, moved it, dusted it, and here it still stands, not terribly tall, but proud and elegant, confident of its place in the room. This is what attracts me. 

The heap

What doesn’t? The pile of clothes heaped on the slipper chair next to the dresser where the lamp sits. They are haphazard, a cacophony of colors and wrinkles and not, some folded from clean laundry brought up days ago, some dress shirts, still unhung and flung over the chair’s back to keep more wrinkles at bay. The two dark pieces of luggage on the floor next to it, one perpendicular to the wall, one parallel. The disarray, the tasks needing doing, the darkness, the bold swaths of colors and shapes sloppily bleeding into one another, the visual stimulation that corner brings is a detraction and is what doesn’t attract me.

2) Our next task in this tune up was to “slow right down.” If I had a clean corner for every time someone told me to slow down, well, I’d have a tidier house and mind than I do now. This exercise involved getting up and moving about, wherever you are inside or out, and slowing down your thoughts, your pace, your breathing as you move. Noticing each step, a changing environment or a cat walking by, took me away from my predictable looping brain reel and into a reality outside my head, which replaced my usual thoughts, if only for a few minutes. It changed my vision from a wide frame taking in all stimuli at once, a busy horizon stretched to its edges, to a narrow aperture seeing single things in a slide show style succession. The external world felt smaller, but each item was bigger and more beautiful, and the overwhelm of tasks was delightfully at bay.

3) The last tune-up task was to see (and sense) the beauty in everything and everyone. The instruction was to see gratitude as a wallpaper in bright colors. Participants had 15 minutes to move about and do this. Many lived in trendy Brooklyn, donned in black with contrasting white AirPods in their ears, and they moved about soaking up those high rpms that are signature New York. During most of this Zoom call, I had wrestled with keeping my camera on and then off, rinse and repeat, distracted and a bit discouraged seeing my pale morning face, glasses and floppy pillows behind me. The jig is up, folks: this girl is wearing the same tank top she slept in, she’s propped up in bed for God’s sake, and hasn’t bothered to turn a light on, so of course her Zoom background is a dull, just woke up shade of grey! After the back and forth of video on/off indecision and background adjustments, I was relieved to simply turn my camera off and go downstairs. If something doesn’t work, unplug it for a while. Passing a laundry basket, I’d moments earlier filled with soaked towels catching rainwater (from poorly tarped renovated spaces, an entire other story, but did you SEE last night’s rain?), hungry, I made my way to the kitchen.

A logo so pretty you can practically smell the bread baking

To kill my fifteen minutes, I chose to do something useful, like moving a load of towels to the dryer and making myself some toast. The bread I’d be toasting was a gorgeous hand-crafted country sourdough loaf I bought yesterday from Evergreen Butcher and Baker. I told them they need to rent the place next door, where they could employ the third member of their holy trinity, the “Candlestick Maker.” The girl in the bakery laughed and told me her roommate had said that, too. The bread has that homemade substance you envision in an artisan loaf, but is light and airy, too. I forced the toast up from the toaster after what I determined was an interminable wait. I had two thin pats of butter ready to go and minced them for easy dispersing over the hot bread. I sprinkled a little salt over the top as I stood there watching the butter slowly melt, and helped it along with a knife, so I could eat it quicker and to uniformly spread the salt. I stood at the counter to deliberately eat the toast, one luscious bite at a time, salt and butter finding its way into the cavernous pockets of this sumptuous slice. I heard the dryer spinning on the other side of the wall and I heard the crunch of warm toast bites in stereo inside my head. I had thought to pop in two slices, but I don’t think a second slice would have compared, and my toast fascination and amazement would have been largely diluted. Sated, I slowly wandered back upstairs, back to the Brooklyn, Sydney, Paris and even a handful of Georgia Creative Mornings Zoomers. The screen slowly woke up and the chats began to flow. We’d each noticed different things, me, the hypnotic quality of towels tumbling in a dryer as slowly melting butter and salt sank into toast air pockets. We each were revived from this quarter of an hour, which offered a fascinating meditative hyper-focus where we could find a simple pocket of stillness and become reacquainted with our wide-open hearts, and minds, and eyes. 

Throughout the session, a few quotes were offered up, and I jotted them down. 

1) Whatever interests you is your future self-seeking to manifest itself in the present.

2) Sometimes you have to turn something off to turn something on.

3) Don’t stick with what we know.

4) Be patient with yourself.

5) Sit with your discomfort.

6) New things can be built up around the things we already have. 

7) How am I moving forward for myself?

8) You know where to go. You can steer.

9) Put what’s inside you outside you so you can see it. 

10) Creativity is that rare phenomenon where teacher and student reside in the same human.

Have yourself a wondrous weekend and maybe some toast.

xo

Uncategorized

Sans Souci : without worry : free of care

That unmistakable September light

I started this post weeks ago when the month was brand new. New month, new energy and that smidgeon of crispness you get in the morning. Even though we’re a week away from October, it seems only fitting to recognize this gorgeous month. Hello September! Some months, a select few for me, sparkle more, and I’m more inclined to sift through whatever is heavy, break it up, and move it out. This is that time.

You know it’s fall and summer has surely slipped away when you get that pool eSplash notifying you that pool hours have now been reduced. For at least a second year in a row, we visited all of one time this year, making that lone visit a several hundred-dollar swim. Why do we keep signing up for this steep madness? 

Ben’s cat, Rufus

My boys’ rooms are now morphing into storage areas for various things – linens, clothes, and all that other stuff you put into bins. Some of their belongings are still in there – swim ribbons and soccer trophies, clothing they never chose to wear, little figurines a child keeps on a dresser, wopsy pillows, and long-ago bedtime books still tucked away in Pier I and Ikea Billy bookcases. My babies, now men, are both in college and settled into their own apartments, and one even just adopted his first pet, a cat named Rufus.

But it is here that their rooms remain, albeit picked over and missing an energy, unless a cat chooses to nap in there. Aside from the rooms’ storage utility, the beds are at least made, but my younger son’s is missing its pillows. He returned the other day, the Grinch from Ga Tech, plucking the remaining ones to join his other two. I get it, it’s easier to study when you’re all propped up, but whenever I pass that room, the naked bed calls out, “Get me some pillows, will you?”

This void isn’t sad, it’s just airy, especially now, since off each bedroom is the construction start of a bath and closet. The timing for this renovation is ironic, though not unique. Kids leave and only now do time and resources present. For the cats, the open air behind those plywood doors is fascinating, and sometimes when the 16-pounder’s paw succeeds in prying it loose, exposed is all manner of goodness for both to explore. I’m not always sure when they’ve snuck in there, but when they show up for mealtime, exhausted, and with cobwebbed whiskers and filthy paws, you can tell how they spent their day. 

The void isn’t sad, it’s just airy.

This month has me taking care of things. My laptop was throwing fits, so I dialed up the nice folks at AppleCare. They patiently hear me out each time, logically break down my problems, and leave me restored and empowered. The AppleCare guy wanted to share my screen, which I allowed, but not without first apologizing for the embarrassingly large mess of icons littering my desktop. I’m cluttered, and this busy screen is a sampling of my world.  Sure, we’re in the midst of a house renovation, but who are we kidding? I was no minimalist before. I once read somewhere that clutter is dodging decisions, and along these lines, there’s a movie called Minimalism http://minimalismfilm.com/watch, with Dan Harris (author, Ten Percent Happier), that I want to watch. It’s going to change things up and push me to ask that illuminating, simple question: Is This Useful? Stay tuned for the transformation.

Clutter is dodging decisions.

I’ve begun working part-time from home, a little editing gig which, if consistent, will help offset one of our boys’ apartment rents each month. I do love details and this job unquestionably challenges that hunger. Other than sharpening my eye for detail, on the list of things to learn if I’m going to function in this working world is a way to stop spell check from flying away with my email the second it has completed scanning it for errors. There is always that other thing I wanted to look at or fix, but once spell check is complete, from my laptop’s speakers emanates a flock of birds gleefully flying away with my message as fast as their wings can carry them. Without that final review, any remaining errors are carelessly flapping in the wind.

The house where we live and work has little storage, and flat surfaces fill up quickly, mantles included, all seven of them. I once had some tenants who were remarkably reductive – no labels visible anywhere. Pasta pulled from its box to stand vertically in tall glass canisters. Same for laundry detergent, shampoo, coffee beans, all of it. Unlike me, these people were calm, too. There’s a connection there. Clean, airy rooms open up space in your head. I know this to be true. Every time I load the car and head to a donations place, I never look back. I always leave lighter, happier someone else can use these items, and proud of myself for driving them to their next chapter.

Clean, airy rooms open up space in your head.

Heading home and still cloaked in calm, I typically come upon an insane intersection near my house where, to turn left, you must cross oncoming traffic and merge into two lanes of traffic. Merging puts you on the left, and next you must creep over to the right if you’re going to head in the direction of home. I scan the drivers’ faces – are they friendly, or pretending to ignore me, or will they choose to floor it at the precise moment I could slip in front of them? I take great care to lock eyes with that one driver who will feel my struggle and do the right thing. I read them wrong most times, yet still assuming the best of these people, I attempt to inch in front of them only to have them close the gap the instant the light turns. But there, lurking in the sea of motorists, is that occasional driver who surprises me and motions me to tuck in and join the procession. 

And so, I keep going, one thing at a time. Lately it’s washing dog beds. Lucie was spoiled silly, a comfy bed always a few paces away. From the looks of things, you’d presume I was a canine inn-keeper, fluffing up for the next guest, but for now, I’m dog-less, and simply cleaning and storing. My favorite bed I bought her last year right before Christmas was a plush sage green orthopedic one. I was thrilled to find I’d scored the last one, plucking it from its high shelf and hauling it out of the store just as a light snow began to fall. I knew it would quiet her arthritis and bring on solid sleep. Instead, her paws got stuck in the deep plush quilted panels between the tufts, making it hard to get up, offering little incentive to get back in. She didn’t mind this waste of a gift taking up space, and instead just plunked back down on her familiar half-inch gel mat. 

And so, I keep going, one thing at a time.

This clutter thing has been interesting. I know the way out is a place for everything and everything in its place, but there’s just too much stuff that sends my brain spinning. Where can it all go? I’m learning for most of it, the answer is “out!” I’m getting there, but, still, with no real closet to call my own, but for the Ikea armoire in the hall, any wardrobe additions find themselves homeless. Closets, plural, are coming. I recently sold a pair of lamps, and the lady who bought them texted me the next day, thrilled with her find, including a photo of how her living room was shaping up. For me, this made the sale. 

In the spirit of taking care, I’ve been justifiably consistent with medical visits. Recently, during an ultrasound, I found myself once again in an exam room undressed from the waist up and waiting to be seen. Why is it they always barely knock and simultaneously open the door? How do they determine how much time to allow before going in? Is there a set time it takes a woman to get topless and into a gown, opening to the front? Mind you, I’m no slow undresser, but am certain for those who are, that scant knock and immediate open door affords an awkward zero time to respond. Makes you wonder.

At another appointment – the annual bilateral mammogram – after a long stint in the waiting room where I loved comparing notes with a lovely woman waiting on her own results, a gentleman wearing a dress shirt and tie (you can be sure getting assigned the well-dressed male is never a good sign) came to get me. He had a question, and on the walk to find a room for our Q&A session, the only question I could envision was, “Ma’am, why is it you have such astonishingly shitty luck?” I soon learned he was confused why my scans showed a second pin in my breast. They knew about the first marker they’d placed from an earlier biopsy but didn’t know I’d had another one at a different hospital. All this was long ago, but new to him. Nothing to see here, just a little shrapnel from the war zone. I assured him that was it, and it was then that I was released back into the world of regular people. At least for another year. 

Sans Souci, Jekyll Island Club

Last weekend we got to go to Jekyll Island for my husband’s conference. Our stay at the Sans Souci was true to its name, quiet and with the quirky combination of Covid and mid-September, the hotel was at just two thirds occupancy. It’s refined and grand in its well-built simplicity and old, 1896 old. I studied every bit, soaking in the rich details: the moldings, buttery soft bannister, heart pine floors, stained glass transoms, porch floor paint colors, curved trim, all of it. With our 1860s house getting its own loving care, I imagined the many people who built this place with their own hands. There were framed pictures to prove it. 

Cuttlefish clatch?

I got in a little beach time, too, and concluded late September is the sweet spot for getting to the Georgia coast when the glaring hot sun is replaced with a sweeter, gentler one, and the beaches aren’t crowded. You notice more in that dappled light and without all the people – sandpipers, flitting, looking for lunch, their curving paths skirting the foam at the water’s edge, seagulls parked on the sand, chatting it up and flying further down the beach as I approach, and sand dollars, lots of them, sweet round perforated miracles, dotting my walk. The next day there were no sand dollars, but instead, a livelier surf and sky chock full of sun, and even a sweet dog who let me toss him a tennis ball. Every new beach day is so very different from the last. Every any day is.