Friday, December 19, 2014

My Christmas Letter

I've almost lost touch with Christmas, this annual rite of hospitality and generosity.  Kind of wanted to ignore the whole thing, but a blogger friend wrote a Christmas letter, so I decided to Christmas is a good time to reflect and write my own thoughts down.

I've never been one to write Christmas letters.  I don't even like getting them.  Most of the ones I read are far too breezy to feel real.  Well.  Here's my stab at this little ritual. Doubt I'll make it an annual event.  File it wherever you like.

Merry Christmas.  Yes, it's bearing down on me, and instead of preparing this house for the cat sitter or wrapping gifts I'm rambling on here.  2013 was challenging.  Best hurried through. 2014, on the other hand, has been a blessing.  A stranded-on-a-desert-island-with-no-one-but-your-monkeys-on-your-back kind of blessing.  Did lots of exterior work on the house. New bench.  New door.  New landscaping.  New curb appeal.

What does this have to do with my blessing.  Nothing.  Well, maybe it's a reflection of it.

My Year

January and February 2014.  On the inactive list because of shoulder surgery.  With plenty of time, I ponder.  My past.  My future.  I love my life.  I really do. I am not mourning my married life.  Except at holidays, I revel in being single.  However. There is this lingering insecurity, this anxiety about my worth, my legacy, my emotional welfare.

March 2014.  I name this lingering insecurity the 'feeling felt' void.  Yes, it's been nearly a decade since I have felt felt.  You know, when someone really knows you through and through and loves the pants off you?  Well, now that I'm not expecting that kind of male companionship, girlfriends will be my loving community, right?  Oh, dear.  I do not make friends easily.  I need a Friendship Coach. 

April 2014.  I write about Anam Cara.  In Celtic tradition, an Anam Cara is a teacher, companion or spiritual guide. With the Anam Cara you can share your innermost self to reveal the hidden intimacies of your life, your mind and your heart. Readers, you're my Anam Cara. My Friendship Coach is, too.

May 2014.  I stop protecting myself, pretending I am well adjusted.  I'm not! I have difficulty loving myself.  Difficulty feeling my own feelings.  I am off putting, aloof at times.  Who cares that I'm 61.  I have Mommy issues!  So I start telling about my mother.  I stop protecting the memory of that childish woman who drank and yelled and expressed contempt for everyone but herself.  The one who blamed her husband and her children for spoiling her destiny.  Oh, yes, I was one meek daughter, and I've become one meek adult post widowhood.

June, July 2014. I start identifying the monkeys on my meek little back and begin picking them off.

August 2014.  I start putting myself at ease around people, whatever it takes (no liquor).  I fight my habit to put everyone else at ease (read: mother) before I even think about letting myself feel at ease.  On vacation in my RV in Maine, I truly relax.  My spirit rests in the vastness of the sky filled with stars, in the gentle rhythm of 28 foot tides, in the distance of neighbors' campfires, in the absolute quiet of the wilderness.  I reach out to an interesting couple my age.  We have a splendid time relaxing and chatting!  New friends to visit next time I'm in Maine!

September, October 2014.  Continuing my meek search for friendship, bicycling with a nice group of people, going out to lunch afterwards.  Make some headway, never feeling quite at ease the way I did in Maine.  Budding friendships on hold now, to be resumed next spring.  Busy buttoning up my property for the winter.  Finding additional support for my aging father. 

November 2014.  With winter bearing down, no time for socializing.  Wait a cotton picking minute! My Friendship Coach insists.  You're abandoning yourself, just like your mother abandoned you.  I resolve to stop being unkind to myself.  It's just so c-o-m-f-o-r-t-a-b-l-e.

December 2014.  I resolve to notice, to take heed of my feelings.  Learn from them, and address my needs.  I'm not your typical person on my suburban street, yet I have every right to feel at ease.  People like me.  There's no competition. I stop trying to be 'not me', stop believing only a Super Size personality gets the cheese.  Though I don't quite see it yet, I'm a benefit to all.  I was invited here.  Well, not by my mother, but you know that already.  I am free to be at ease, even as others (think mother) are spinning out of control.

"I used to think that to become free you had to practice like a samurai warrior, but now I understand that you have to practice like a devoted mother of a newborn child. It takes the same energy but has a completely different quality. It's compassion and presence rather than having to defeat the enemy in battle." — Jack Kornfield, The Question

If you've made it this far, Thank you for reading.

I wish you a bright and merry Christmas,
Lots of love and many

   ))) hugs (((    

Monday, November 3, 2014


Hey!  That's me.  Least I wish it was.  Today I am hanging up my adult behavior for some cuddling.  Some serious cuddling.  I have a few things to spit up, too.

I've been in a funk these past few days.  Maybe my sore back is getting to me.  I played Atlas the other day and tried to lift a godawfully heavy automatic garage door when its cable snapped.  Not only did the cable snap, but the spring snapped too, swinging like some lumbering ape just inches from my car.  It sounded like a bomb had gone off when that door crashed down. I'm sure that spring would have nailed me if I'd been any where near it.  So I guess I'm lucky.  I tried to lift the door, as if sheer will would do it. Several times.  A Mexican take-out order was waiting.  I did give up.  I cancelled the order (too late).  I called a repairman, and $95 later my door works fine.

My back has not recovered. I think it would have if I'd just rested.  But a couple days later I moved heavy bluestone to make a patio for the bench I just refinished.  Ha! Got it done just before the weather turned cold. 



I'm getting better at hiring people to take care of things.  But it has to be something I can't do myself.  I'm stubborn that way.  Right now I'm stubborn about hiring someone to kill the yellow jackets nesting in my guest room wall.  It's pretty easy to see where they come in.

 I just wish the wood pecker I hear would eat the whole lot of them and be done with it.  They've been buzzing around inside on warm days.  Last week, when my brother was coming to stay overnight, I dressed up in a hazmat suit and vacuumed a couple dozen of them up so he could sleep in the room.  He elected to sleep on the sofa bed in my livingroom instead.  I guess one day, when it's cold, I'll climb a ladder and spray insecticide in the hole.  Then my carpenter can install new siding, and next spring I can paint it.

But today, now, this is a baby time.  The life I want to lead must include baby days.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Here at the moment

comes a time
 in your life, when you walk away from all the drama and
people who
create it. You surround yourself with people who make you
laugh. Forget
the  bad and focus on the good. Love the people
 who treat you well, pray for the ones who don't. Life
is too short to
be anything but happy. Falling down is a part of life,
getting back up
is living.
If anybody's still reading this blog, let me know LOL. This is the condensed version of my life:  taking care of happy business, and doing as little as possible to take care of ugly business. Happy business: gardening.  Ugly business: elder care.
For my particular 101-year-old-father.  How's that for elder?  Our family promised to keep him in his home until he dies and we're honoring this.  Now I feel angry at its cost to my brother and his wife, who live with him.  They're locked into a situation with a mad man.  Oh!  I want to walk away from all the drama and break our vow.  I feel guilty because I do so little to help - I clean closets, cart away my hoarder Dad's stuff,  throw money at essential house repairs.  But I make my visits as brief and infrequent as possible.  My 65 year old brother and his wife uprooted their lives for him.  It's torturing them.  What to do? 
Understanding why he's so spiteful isn't helping me handle it well.  Reasoning with him is impossible, but then that's his age.  I'll wager he's feeling scared and helpless and deflecting it onto his children.  But who knows what's in his head?  He doesn't talk 'feelings'.  No, instead he laughingly pitches daggers so sharp with scorn that he's drawing emotional blood.  I don't want to be near him.  It hurts so much.  According to him  Nothing needs fixing. I don't give a damn about your feelings.  Get out of my way.  Go away!!!  Actually, Dad has always operated according to these principles.  He is just missing the younger person's ability to self regulate his impulses and behavior. 

Yes, he does the typical old people things, leaving stovetop burners on, wearing clothes too many days in a row, wearing nothing at all, pulling out his catheter, telling the doctors he's fine when he's not, falling down because he's weak.  But this past year, he's also insisted on tipping the refrigerator over to clean underneath, taking the stove apart with its 50 amp power on, cutting a neighbor's tree down, eating fuzzy green food, and painting over cracks so deep, smelly and black that every rainstorm leaves him wet in bed.  Naturally, we don't let him get a pass on these.  That's when he gets mean.  He laughs at us for inventing problems that don't exist.  Tries to trip us up.  Sneaks around behind our backs.  Uh, huh.  No elder abuse exists here.  We're good kids.  But plenty of abuse exists on his end.  This makes me sad and philosophical from afar and hurt and angry up close. 
This is a falling down part of life.  I feel guilty for walking away from the drama. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Camping Alone with the Super Moon

Goodness gracious, this update to my camping trip has taken forever.   I'm back, now, still digesting my experience.  I had the time of my life up there, in downeast Maine.  I feel so comfortable off the grid.  Where do you feel most comfortable?  We all have that place where we feel most ourselves, unpressured, at peace.

This year, I experimented with new behavior.  Which is to say, I didn't totally keep to myself.  Mostly, yes, but not totally.  I met scads of people - well, a dozen or so, who invited me to share campfires, drinks, card games, parties, the study of green crabs, concerts, a writing workshop and local food lecture.  I declined the card games and the parties, but accepted the invitations to check out the green crabs, attend jazz and chamber music concerts, participate in a writing workshop, sample local food, share drinks and campfires and s'mores.  I made new friends who live in Maine.

I invited myself to the home/studio of my favorite sculptress to hang out with her and her wonderful work.  I brought home one of her sculptures.  I love this woman, a woman in her seventies who is this wellspring of creativity.  I want to grow up to be like her.

A woman camping alone is indeed a rare thing.  So rare, in fact, that I've only seen it once in the eight years I've been doing it.  This year, I countered my embarrassment at being seen alone with the fantasy that my independence may just set an example for the ladies I encounter.  I think I sparked a vision for a young lady, by the way she eyed my bike and my camper.  To all the couples I see: let's say one of you dies.  Does that mean your love of camping gets snuffed out, too?

Can you beat this beauty?  I will camp until I can camp no more.  I figure I have 15 years ahead, for I see people close to 80 enjoying the experience.  It might be wise to cut down on my solo wilderness trekking, though.  I do admit I should have brought a cell phone and maybe my pepper spray when I hiked in two miles to pick blueberries.  I did bring my camera, in case a brown bear ambled by.  Maybe I will cut back on my jogging down deserted country roads.  I do bring my pepper spray for the beastly dogs that nip at my heels.  Maybe I will shorten my bike rides round Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park.

Not when there's a super moon out there.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Taking On the Dark

My camping trip so far.

Day One

Day Two

Day Three and Four -This is Maine?

I was supposed to be camping in the woods by Day Two.  But my RV had other ideas.  It started shaking like crazy 150 miles into my trip.  Wasn't the road.  Must be the tires?  Nothing looked out f order, but I stopped at a Holiday Inn Express in Massachusetts, to go to Town Fair Tires first thing next morning and have the tires checked out. Two hours into this look-see, they told me the RV's front wheel assembly was rotted.  Fix.  Pronto!  I got this repair done by a local mechanic they recommended, but the RV still shook like crazy afterwards.  So this dear (really - he's the sweetest part of the story) mechanic pulled apart the RV's undercarriage to get to the bottom of all this shaking.  Wasn't the drive shaft. Or the U something. Finally... he noticed that the rear wheels had no fresh balancing weights, which they should have had IF the wheels were actually balanced in the first place by Town Fair Tires.  It was obvious.  The rear tires hadn't even been off for the look-see.  They weren't, um, round any more, like wheels should be? 

Yes, too late to fix that day.  The mechanic, and me, were pretty ticked off.  Unwilling to spend big bucks for a motel again, I spent my second night tucked in next to old cars at the mechanic's Used Car lot.

Day three. That morning I got some coaching from the mechanic:  Be gentle but aggressive with the #&* at Town Fair Tires. Armed with indignation and tenacity, I got my money back from for the work they never did, bought two new rear tires for half price and got a free front end alignment. 

By noon I was on my way to Acadia National Park, arriving too late to stay there.  Not too late for a lobster dinner, though.  KOA was home for the next two nights.   I made it to the Craft Show in Bar Harbor Saturday and Sunday as planned.  My favorite Artisans are there!

Day five.  Arrived at Cobscook Bay State Campground, off the Bay of Fundy, for the site I reserved at the stroke of 9 a.m. on February 10 this year.

Day Five

View from my site.  Not another camper in sight.  Disconnected from the distractions of loud conversations, used cars, mammoth RVs, electricity and Wi-Fi. 


Wish you were here!  Shhh.  Let its peace soak into our spirit, lay bare our darkness, and empty us of all but love.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Be Authentic

My message for today: Be Authentic. Not a people pleaser.  Not a people distancer.  Instead, be authentic.  Be a people includer.  If this comes naturally to you, God bless you.  Me?  No.  I've been a social chameleon, except to you all, here, and my Friendship Coach, my late husband, my brother, and a couple friends.

That social chameleon is one monkey I believe people don't catch on to, because her rose colored mirror is so big all they see is their own pretty reflection.  Who doesn't like that?  Except... maybe they do spot her.  Maybe people are more clever than that, and really want to know the real me.  Hey.  Maybe the authentic me comes out any way.  In any case, I've been deliberately ditching this pretty little monkey and just being - authentic.  In little encounters.  It's a start.  It's fun, actually but for a people pleaser like me, it's unnerving.  I guess this is how you learn who your friends are, when they actually like you for being authentic.

Do you use the Social Chameleon as your default?  When?  Or is it just me? 

I'm crazy busy these days. Next week I take my little RV up to Maine for two weeks and it's so much work to get it up and running.  Its suspension system, which depends on air pressure as well as leaf springs, is still broken, even though my dear mechanic has been troubleshooting it for three weeks.  His last fix hasn't held.  RV's loaded weight is 8800 pounds, and I need plenty of ground clearance in these campgrounds!  Luckily, I just need to push a button on its dashboard to add pressure to the air bladders on the rear axle that hold it up.

Yesterday I vacuumed its upholstery, shampooed its carpets, cleaned its cabinets, washed its windows.  Today I fix its dead outlet, fill its water supply, test its water pump and heater and refrigerator.   None of today's work comes naturally.

Take a deep breath.  Just because it doesn't come naturally, doesn't mean I'm not supposed to be doing it.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Writing, Wrens, and Rapport

I'm trying something different here. Here goes.   My day today...

Here's how it began.  As usual, I went out for breakfast.  Many neat choices.  Could be the Diner by the lake.  The Diner near the Parkway.  The Diner with 1950's décor.  The restaurant with wood tables and classical music.  The restaurant with organic eggs.  The little café nestled on a street of antique shops.  Today I went to the restaurant with plain wood tables and elegant music.  "Sit wherever you like!"  they sing out. I know them by name and they know me.  Usually I sit at a table so I can pour over a book or the New York Times, scribbling notes in the margins, maybe writing in my journal.  I wonder if people think I'm an author, or a recluse, certainly a holdout from an age when pens were at the end of our fingertips. 

I'm currently reading a book about Emotional Intelligence, by Daniel Goleman, that I borrowed from the Library.  For me, it's an absolute revelation that the world operates on an emotional frequency that I assumed was only practiced in secret or in movies.  Hey. If you've read anything about me, you'll understand that both I and my parents were clueless about the ways and means of emotional presence.  I did learn it with my husband, but I thought I lost access to the best parts when he died.   I'll summarize EQ by saying it's our ability to recognize, honor and deal from our feelings in a way that enables us to develop authentic emotional rapport with others.   If we're not taught it (generally by our earliest caregivers), then we don't learn how to soothe ourselves, for instance.  Apprehension, or anxiety, or anger can hijack our brain, literally handicapping our ability to think straight, much less love well.

I'm seeing the light.  #1.  The world is really a friendly place.  #2.  What I really want is emotional rapport.  #3.  It's up to me to make this obvious to one and all.

Back to my day.  For the rest of my day I worked outside with my handyman, a man who shows up most days to help me out.  This man can do most anything practical - replace a roof, build fences, remodel rooms, build terraces, clean exteriors, stain decks, create stone paths, pull bushes out.  For the most part, we get along beautifully.  Some day I'll tell you how we met.


Together, we're fixing up my house to sell.  Well, as if  to sell.  I have no intention of selling it, but this is the only way I can explain spending all this money.  I enjoy my handyman's companionship in an employer, employee kind of way.  At the end of his work day we share beers and chat.  I treasure these two friendly bookends to my day - breakfast and beer.

A wren is raising her young near my garage.  My camera caught what my eye couldn't see - that baby head poking out of the hole to grab that little morsel.

I also had visitors, an 18 year old woman and male companion who introduced themselves and asked for support toward young people like her.  She was born in Chicago to drug addicted parents, and became a teenage unwed mother.   I was fascinated by the way she built rapport, emotional rapport, with me.   I adored her.  True, the former New Yorker in me was cautious about donating to a charity after hearing a hard luck story, but I think she and the charity were legit.  My neighbors  donated, too, and I have a receipt.

Well, that's a snapshot of my day.  I hope you had a lovely day, too.  Do tell!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Fixing My Girfriend Picker


I let out a dirty little secret here last month.  A shameful secret.  I was an Oops - Dammit! baby. (Brother and sister have confirmed it was no secret to them that our mother hated my being born.)   During this long blog silence I've been digesting the fact that her rejection said a lot about her and nothing about me.  It had everything to do with her capacity to love, her depression, her alcoholism.  I mean, this is embarrassing.   " Even your own mother couldn't love you!"  Yes, yes, yes, my husband assured me the idiot was her, not me.  But, without him here... shame crawled right back onto my back.   The last straw was being the butt of a family joke for doing the very thing my husband would have been thrilled to do with me - hug the statues on Easter Island. 

Obviously I need assertiveness training with the old crowd.  Those hulking egos, swaggering about with sharp claws and non-stop chatter when I elbow in,  are mere shadows of their former selves.  Aren't we all.  So.  Time for a little target practice.  Not on whoever is left of my dear family.  Nope.  The target's those three idiot monkeys my mother shoved on when I was within spitting distance.  The fur is going to fly!  One monkey is called the Patronizer, who says, 'You're weird.".  One called the Greek Seer, warning  "Rejection ahead! "  And the third, of course, is Shame "Even your own mother didn't love you.  What do you expect?"  Together they supply enough apprehension and anxiety to make me pee in my pants.

I have complied a list of options for dealing with such monkeys. 
  • Do battle with them.  This is best done at night; You're awake anyway
  • Join the Monkey of the Month Club.  If that gets boring, join the Monkey of the Day Club
  • Write them off with a tell all memoir
  • Recycle them onto someone else's back
  • Give them something to knock them out.  Xanax, Chocolate, Whiskey, Haagen Dazs
  • Starve them.  You'll lose weight, too
  • Smoke them out.  Works for moles, maybe monkeys too
  • Make hay of them.  Slice, dice, mince, chop.  Then leave outside to deodorize
  • Make fireworks of them.  Tonight!
  • Put them in back in the stork's sack. Tie it airtight and watch it fly 
  • Tie a big helium balloon to their toe.  Release
  • Add clay and shape into a cross
  • Tune out.  What monkeys?
  • Leave the office door open.  SUPERMANAGER inside 
  • Teach your monkey how to paint or sing. Add tin cup
  • Call Monkey Removal.  1-800-shitbegone
  • Educate the Monkeys.  Monkeys with law degrees live in nice homes 
  • Read up on Monkeys.  Earn your PhMonkeyD
  • Tack your monkey to the bullseye.  Now load your rifle

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Friendship. Tears and Tears

A lot has been going on in my life.  I'm building another garden, this one approximately 600 square feet.  Sorry, this picture is lousy, but you get the idea.

Gardening makes for introspection.  I'm doing a lot of both these days, inspired by the Friendship Coach I meet with once a week.  As I wrote last month, my Girlfriend Picker's broken.  Not totally.  I have made a true blue friend or two since my husband died.  But I tend to pick the "it's all about me" women, and that leaves me without the emotional support when I need it.  So last night, when I wasn't sleeping, I started thinking about why the words a fellow blogger used to forgive her abuser (her father) helped me so much.  Here's what they are.

#1. I forgive you [the abuser].  Well, I couldn't tell if this helped, so I went on to the second.

#2. God, please forgive Mom.   O.K.  Now this I could tell helped.  My heart just melted.  A weight just lifted from my shoulders.  I'm still saying this one, and my heart's still melting.

I commented in her blog about this helping, but I want to elaborate here.

I can point to the very incident when my Girlfriend Picker broke, when my feeling of safety with women tore apart.  It was the summer of 1972.  I was back home after my freshman  college year.  Unhappily, I had not made any friends that year, although before that, girlfriends had been part of my life.  But I was afraid to make overtures towards complete strangers.  I was painfully shy.  Why?  I got the bright idea that maybe my Mom's not ever hugging me or telling me she loved me were holding me back.  Maybe she just didn't know I needed these demonstrations of her love.

1972.  The three of us at the dinner table, Mom at one end, my father at the other.  I don't remember if a sister was there.

me: "Mom, you've never hugged me or told me you love me.  Why?"
She stiffens. - (well, I'll try asking more directly)

"Mom, I'd like to know if you love me."
She slowly puts down her fork. - (uh-oh).

"Mom, I'd like to hear you say, just once, that you love me."
The muscles around her eyes and mouth stiffen and she turns to me, mouth set in a straight line.

"Mom, is it really so hard to tell me?  I'm just asking if you've ever loved me."
She says - nothing -.

"Please, I need to know.  I need you to put your arms around me and tell me you love me.  I've never been held or heard this from you"  me, crying now
Her eyes lock on mine, chilling me.

"I'm begging you.  Please tell me you love me!  How can it be this hard?"  my voice rising to a shriek, tears flowing
She's a freaking statue.

"It's such a simple thing to say!"  now I'm down on my knees beside her, reaching my arms up to her to be held
She looks straight through me. 

Dad breaks the silence, saying in a strained voice: "Don't ask your mother that."

Well, I can't remember ever feeling so hurt.  I ran away.  I came back, eventually, because I needed their money to complete my college education.  Emotionally, though, I shut down, toward I guess both parents, though I forgave my Dad immediately.  But my Mom always said I was an accident, and now I understood why she never added with a smile "but a happy accident".

Several days later she took me aside.  She explained in all earnestness that she couldn't say she loved me because my father wouldn't let her.  This was baloney.  My Dad never stopped her from speaking her mind.  Nobody did.  She didn't say "I love you" then, or ever.  In fact she said some pretty nasty things to me as time went on.

Sometimes I wish life came with an instruction manual.  It would say, five terrible losses will inhabit your life, and you don't get to pick which ones and when.  They will come at you before you're strong enough to deal with them.  But God will be with you.  He/She will always be with you.  Now.  Go enjoy what life has to offer.

Back out to the garden.  Thanks for listening.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Long Range Living

Dad and grandson
Not everybody gets to live past 100, but more and more people do.  You and I may.   Today is my father's 101st Birthday.  He's a special guy. 1913 was evidently a good year to be born and Washington a good state to be born in.

Dad still lives in the home we kids grew up in, in New England, purchased in 1946.  He and Mom met in 1945, raised four kids, and had a good decade of retirement, traveling round the country in their camper.  Mom's blindness and Alzheimer's settled in thereafter, and she died at home in 2000, after years of care by her husband, three daughters and part time care giver.  As sweet a man as Mom was nasty, Dad sprang back to life after she died.  We were thrilled.  Never one to go abroad before, he got his first passport at age 89, and went to Norway with an old sweetheart.  Since then, a few sweethearts have come and gone.  To heaven.  The family keeps a keen eye on his current young sweetheart and chauffeurs him on his dates. 
Dad was from the old school.   Men worked, women kept house and raised the kids.  We scarcely saw him, except at dinnertime.  He retired just before I graduated college nearly forty years ago.  He drove their camper down to New York City to attend the ceremony, and he and Mom headed west from there.  Mom was already losing her sight, so they wasted no time.  I acquired my love for camping from them.  The family went somewhere nearly every summer.  Dad and camping go a long way back.  At age 20, he bought an old Model A Ford and rebuilt its engine, traveling from Wisconsin to the Pacific.  He and a friend camped under the stars.  The depression was in full swing.  $60 got them there and back.

Dad on the left

Dad drove until a few years ago.  It was only when he nicked a skateboarder that he had his license revoked.  After that, he refused to take a bus.  Yes, his body and mind were working, but he was very stubborn.  So my sister became his driver.  Shortly after something landed him in the hospital, a first  for him.  Nothing a catheter couldn't solve, but living in his house from now on?   That would take intensive effort.  He was weakened, sure, but the house was in much worse shape than him.   Goodwill furniture, paintings, lamps, radios, phonographs, records, rugs, exercise machines, clocks, flashlights, microwave ovens, lawn movers, pants, shirts, shoes, and books, thousands of books, filled every living space.  He would steady himself by grabbing onto the furniture as he walked from room to room.  Plastic hung over the secretary and stacks of books because the ceiling leaked beside his bed.  He had buckets strategically placed.   My brother volunteered to come live with him, and now his wife has joined him.  I'm nominating them for sainthood.  The house is becoming habitable again, safe for him, workable for them.  Change is hard.

Dad couldn't live 'independently' without my brother and his wife, my oldest sister and her husband.  Stubborn and happy, my Dad pursues his interests, and we keep him safe.  Dad's eyes, ears, strength, and keen mind are rolling into history, but his heart keeps ticking.  This winter he got a pacemaker.   No, Dad hasn't outlived his joy, his curiosity, and even the infuriating bees he gets in his bonnet.

Celebrations like last weekend's remind me why we love our families.  Where else would we learn how to get along despite frustrations, disagreements, and unintended consequences when different personalities rub shoulders?  Nothing but love and hard work see us through. 
Dad, his son, son-in-law, and two of his three daughters

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

How My Friend Picker Got Broken

Oh, gosh, this is hard to write.  Linus and me, we have a lot in common.  I feel like I'm back in high school with this friendship quest.  I was not popular then.

This post is about my friendship flops, how I knew and when I knew my New Friend Picker was broken.  It all started when I took the easy road.  Well, no road in widowhood is easy, but you get what I mean.   This is what it looks like.  First, stick with who you know.  Second, go to so many groups your head is spinning.  After that, solo dining and traveling feels soothing.  Third, consume yourself with meeting a new partner. After all,  24/7/365 with one man is easier than herding cats, which is what making dates with girlfriends feels like.  Fourth, turn to sharing who you are through blogs, because that's where the wonderful women are.  

But that doesn't yield a girlfriend joking over pasta at that great new Italian restaurant.  So, here's the report on my friendship quest.  Time period: nine years.  Four new girlfriends total, one of whom has died.  The other three, well, here they are.  To protect the names of the innocent I'll call them Sally Sunshine, Suzie Starburst, and Queen Mary.  Anyone would say they are lively, confident and bright.  One never encounters a lull in the conversation.  So easy to be with.  They were all single and they had free time to go out to dinner. Still, I'd call them the low hanging fruit of friendship.  Why?  Because all they needed was an audience, and almost anyone would do.  They will, and they did suck the air out of a room whenever I tried to turn the conversation back to me.

Be relieved.  I am no longer friends with them.  For a while I confused being a wingman with being friends.  Oh, God. You know that sinking feeling we had in High School?  Or were you one of the popular girls? 

See why I needed to hire a Friendship Coach?  I am a nice, decent woman with lousy girlfriend picking skills.

I tell myself, we widows really do have an ace in the hole when it comes to making friends. We obviously had great husband picking skills.  If I had to choose between having a great husband and lousy girlfriends, or a lousy husband and great girlfriends, I'd pick the first.   That way, you have 24/7/365 covered.   My point is, these great skills can be transferred.

As my Friendship Coach says "Be in the room". To which I add "Be the one to break the ice."  I've been doing that more frequently.  Feels good.

Best wishes to you in your friendship quest, my online buddies.  I would so love to know what you've learned since you've been widowed.  It's not hard to do better than me!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Friendship Hour

I need to stop saying "Gee.  Wouldn't It Be Nice to ..." and realize this is as good as it gets.  I'm sitting outside on my deck sipping coffee and checking e-mail, a ritual I enjoy when it's warmer than 50 degrees.  On those rare occasions when my brother's here,  we sit outside and let our minds rest, absorbing the water view, the bird calls, the play of light as the sun edges higher.  It's a ritual I love.  It is sweet, made even sweeter with the presence of a gentle soul that appreciates companionable silence.  Yet, of the boyfriends and girlfriends and sisters who have stayed overnight, none sit quietly, letting nature speak.  My late husband and I didn't even do this; he'd be off to a meeting before 7:30 most days.

Clearly I know too few people.  I know that I want to enjoy every moment fully, but shoot, some moments are better for sharing.   Call me a dreamer.  Call me a romantic.  Nothing makes me feel loved quite as much as sharing these quiet moments.  Why are they so dam hard to come by?  Is it just me?

In case it's me, I have hired a Life Coach.  A Friendship Coach.  A Mentor.  Actually, she doesn't call herself any of these.  She calls herself a therapist.  Well, whatever.  She's ahead of me on this road of recovery from loss.  She has qualities I admire.  Authenticity.  Emotional responsiveness.  Playfulness.  Availability in person (O.K., for a price).  I can learn from her.

I'm happy, excited to be bicycling and gardening again, but my social diet is more like a fast.  I'm one female confidante away from being merely the friendly gal seen now and again.  The intimacy I knew with my husband and boyfriends has become a distant memory.  The sibling who 'gets me' lives two and a half hours away.  If I didn't have this blog to bear witness to my deepest thoughts I fear I'd vanish in the sea of 'nice' women around here.  I want an anam cara.   Anam cara is the Celtic expression for the deep bond formed when two people are so open and trusting that their souls begin to flow together. 

Some people say if you want that kind of unconditional love, get a dog.  I say, turn to a real friend, a soul friend.  I can't imagine my life without one.  Yet, here I am.  Somehow I've got to get from here to there.  My journey begins...

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Envy, Parallel Lives and Other Enticements

Oh!  A cold finally caught up with me this winter.  Just when I thought it was safe to venture out without a jacket.

Now I'm sitting here with my green cocktail, a perfect blend of spinach, coconut water, mango, and protein powder.  Other than the prospect of stretching out in my bed tonight, my cold is turning today's 'get to do's' into 'got to do's'.   And my 'got to do's', like my workout for my shoulder rehabilitation, into my 'get it over with's'.

Today I'm thinking about the lives we once led, and the life we now lead, then as a couple, now solo.  Couples and singles; We travel alongside each other in different worlds.  Living parallel lives.  I could burn up with envy for couples, but my envy has pretty much burnt out.  It's morphed into putting my effort into something I can actually accomplish.  Now is the time to follow where enticement leads instead of trying to jump tracks back over to coupledom.  Oh, I still believe men are worth the trouble!  Well, the ones I've dated, anyway.

Assuming you've been widowed awhile, may I ask what you think about single life?  Enticing?  Ever envious of it when you were married?  Tell me, did you ever smush your face up against the window wishing you could be that single woman sitting inside?  Truth be told, I did on several occasions when I was married - whenever we hit rough patches.  The reality of single life is, uh, different than what I imagined.  But wait.  The other day I heard about a single woman my age who went to Norway on her own, traveling on a mail boat from one fjord to the next. She stayed at an ice hotel north of the Arctic circle and hired a fellow to take her dog sledding.  WOW!! I thought, my face smashed up against the window.  But wait.  She's like me!  She could be me!

You may find this a rather odd way to follow one's bliss - having a drink at an ice bar.  But it sounds so enticing that it's going on my bucket list, along with walking the Camino de Santiago trail in Spain, and Hadrian's Wall in England.

Whether or not this is wise leads me to an article I read in today's New York Times about wisdom and older age.  I figure that since a good many of us will encounter old age as single women, I'd pass it along.

Phyllis Korkki wrote this.

She quotes:
"True personal wisdom involves five elements, said Professor Staudinger, now a life span psychologist and professor at Columbia University. They are
  • self-insight;
  • the ability to demonstrate personal growth;
  • self-awareness in terms of your historical era and your family history;
  •  understanding that priorities and values, including your own, are not absolute; and
  • an awareness of life’s ambiguities."
In addition...

"An impediment to wisdom is thinking, “I can’t stand who I am now because I’m not who I used to be,” said Isabella S. Bick, a psychotherapist ..."

I read this article, and am not sure I'm 'there'.  I continue to experiment.  Right now I'm simply trying to follow what entices me without hurting anyone, myself included.  If this does not end up depositing me at wisdom's door, so be it.  I may simply be looking at the world upside down and getting soft in the head.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Does the CareGiving Ever Stop?

An article about end-of-life caregiving triggers this post.  It's an old article, but I just read it today. .  Evidently a frequent question is: "Is there life after caregiving, and if so, what is it like?"  Kind of like the question "Is there life after losing a spouse, and if so, what is it like?" 

End-of-life caregiving can be 12 days, 12 weeks, 12 months or 12 years.  It will leave its mark.   There a website for former caregivers.  I'm going to explore it .  

If you were fortunate enough to have warning of your mate's death, and engaged in end-of-life care giving, what sort of mark did it leave on you?  I've participated in two end-of-life care giving periods.  They couldn't have been more different.  What was end-of-life caregiving like for you?  I'd love to hear your answer.  Below is my answer, a revised version of my comment to the article.

"My two end-of life care giving periods transformed me. The first period was for my mother, who had her problems.  Never warm and fuzzy, she grew nastier as her Alzheimer’s progressed.  She viciously turned on her caregivers like a cornered animal.  My tri-weekly visits were difficult to absorb and recover from.  Her death released me from pain and obligation.  Once finished, my husband and I bounced back with a well earned vacation.

The second period, for my husband, began two years later with his diagnosis of advanced stage Multiple Myeloma. I was told by his health team early on, that his needs must be my priority 24/7/365, if he was to survive at all. The burden and the opportunity of end-of-life care were mine.  We could have hired live-in help, but I feared my own end-of-life welfare would be jeopardized if we spent too much money. So we 'only' hired outdoor help, cleaning services and counseling. 

His 'good' death three years later left me with both extreme fatigue and profound self respect for his and my success against all odds.   Maybe my new confidence helped me deal with care giver exhaustion, because I didn't pressure myself to recover too quickly.  Maybe it helped me attack that anchorless feeling of grief we all know. I don't know.  I began a period of soul searching.  I created a blog of musings to sort my life out and choose my next step.

After many many many steps of recovery, I'm opening my heart again and maintaining an inner zone of safety and comfort.  Well, on good days I choose this.  End-of-life care giving was transformative in a good way ultimately.   From the compassion I gained caring for my husband in his most vulnerable condition, came a new depth of concern and appreciation for a motherless and partnerless woman - me .  I am indeed lucky."

Care giving doesn't stop.  It only transfers its target.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Who IS That Woman on Yonder Horizon?

Oh, God.  Is she ?!?  Is She?!?  ME?    The lovelorn widow pining for yesteryear?  Or that spiked heel cougar whose clothes looks poured on?  Is she that old lady playing solitaire while American Pickers and Extreme Makeover is on the telly?  Is she that eye catching woman in Advanced Style?  Is she that know it all that doesn't know when to stop butting in?   She's not that third one in the line dancing at the senior center, is she?  Oh.  Is she now head of that corporation?  Is she the one with the 'phoenix rising from the ashes' memoir on Amazon?  WOW.  She makes widowhood look FUN !

Maybe I'm this woman?  The one who's singing "It's cloud's illusions I believe" ?  Better that than the silver haired church lady handing out dessert after service.  Forgive me, God.  I love You.  I really do.

I've got to think about this.  Now that I'm letting  Project Rematch disappear over the horizon behind me, I can no longer claim to be the "Woman between husbands".  Oh, God. I liked that self image.  It gave me so much hope.  Maybe it's a good sign I'm facing the future without this prop.  "Stiff upper lip sensual artist gardener athlete writer homeowner lady"?    Maybe it will do.

 Makes me think of Maslow.

Who am I to be without a 'thee'?

Just the fact that I'm asking this question anew means I've climbed up a level or two.   Ready to make of life what I can with the ingredients I have.  Remember how stunned we were when life fell apart?  How can we be prepared for widowhood?  Even the best laid plans...  Maslow, you help me see how far I've come.

So many decisions we face, starting at the bottom.  First level -  do we keep the house?  Yes?  Can we afford it? Yes?   Can manage it on our own?  Yes?   Second. Third level - Do we move closer to our family for safekeeping and community?  No? Can we make enough new friends?  Yes?   Fourth level - Without the consistent mirror of one who loves us, who are we now?  Not  "Woman between husbands" for me any more.  But I'm learning self compassion.  Fifth level -  Is my finest self there on the horizon, or did her finest hour pass?

Look!  Yonder woman on the horizon!  Yes!  That's you!  Can you imagine 100 acts of kindness for her?

Monday, February 10, 2014

Dancing on My Husband's Grave: Part Two - Dating

What does it take to date on your late husband grave?   Will a skeletal hand rise from the grave to lock my ankle and crush all 26 bones?   Will he inhabit this ghostly realm and haunt my bedroom when I make love in our bed?  What if he falls out of love with me, since I've fallen out of love with him?

Does anybody but a widow get how huge a step dating is?  I'm not talking desperation dating, the 'I can't stand to be alone' dating.  Not the 'I'm getting my mojo back with a stiff drink' dating.  I'm talking about 'I'm letting go' dating.  The 'It will be different, and different is O.K.' dating.  Young widows do it.  Older widows do it, less, but they do.  I fall somewhere in the middle, not young not old.  Personally, I psyched myself up for the  'It will be different, even better' dating.

I'd seen my 75 year old neighbor recover her omp-pah-pah after her husband of 38 years died.  She played with her new boyfriend for eight years.  He was by her side as she went into the great beyond.  Who wouldn't like second chances?   Besides, one guy I knew said I was 'an animal' on a bicycle.  Wasn't this a sign?

Omp-pah-pah rising.  The key to my heart is in my hand, and a gentleman may gain it.  Enter project Dating.   Many men responded.  Three men got the keys.    Mr. Wide Horizons,  Mr. Pleasure Maker, and  Mr. Best Friend.  Unfortunately, I need these three lovely men in one dear person.  

God!  They gave me such great gifts.  My heart woke up.  My sex drive came roaring back.  I regained that delicious relevance I feel when a good man's heart beats strongly because I love him, too.  I guess my 'loving muscles' are in pretty good shape.  But right now I need time out.  Maybe when spring comes...  I can go either way, solo or joined, though solo is winning at the moment.  But at least I have a choice, and that's made all the difference.

And my fears? No hand ever reached up from the grave to crush my ankle.  No ghost haunts my bedroom.  No love has been lost.  All that's missing now are chains in my heart holding me back from embracing a wonderful life.

Happy Valentine's Day, all
I would so love to hear your experiences dating.  As much as we learn about who's out there, we learn about ourselves.  Pretty cool.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Dancing on My Husband's Grave: Part One - Simplicity

O.K.  Please refrain from calling the police because this widow is showing inordinate glee.

What I have is a full blown case of resolved grief.   WooHoo!  I mean, this was the whole point of writing this blog.    Resolved grief.   Happy feet!!

How'd this little episode of glee erupt?  This past weekend I went through scads of photographs. 1953 on.  These little beauties ended up sorting themselves into piles.

This is My Life
  1. Before 'him'.  Little girl me, teenage me, young adult me, family, friends, school, work place, my boyfriends
  2. Family from my side
  3. Courtship.  Wedding
  4. The two of us
  5. Him, just him 
  6. Me, just me, during and after the marriage
  7. Our homes, including the ones on wheels
  8. Family on his side
The new categories, #1 - 7, are stored in tidy white boxes upstairs.  Category 8?  That last category, #8, is now in one of those sturdy 18 gallon storage containers in my basement, alongside other pieces of his life worth keeping.  No doubt these containers will withstand my periodic basement floods.

Category 8 is for his parents, brother, nephews and nieces and cousins.  Most of these photographs were taken at weddings and funerals and holidays at very fancy places, including a couple of horse farms.  Yes, my dearly departed was born with a silver spoon in his mouth.  The poor man had to suffer through debutante balls, a first marriage with lots of hoopla, and eventually, the stern and vocal disappointment from his father.  For you see, my fellow didn't grow up to lead a Fortune 500 company like his Dad did.  Nope. That fellow of mine spit that silver spoon out of his mouth and hitched himself to a sweet middleclass artist who lived in Greenwich Village.  Yes, we were invited to major family events.   But when my dearly departed became sick with cancer, only one of the clan - his brother - contacted him at all.  Not a smidgen of support for him, for his children, for me.  He was deathly ill for three years!  When my husband died, none of them attended the funeral.  Well, his brother couldn't come to the funeral because he had to attend a golf tournament at his country club.  Yes, pictures of my late husband's family belong in the basement.

WooHoo!  No in-laws!
I did discover one tiny 3 1/2 x 5'" photo that feels very sweet.  This one I may frame.  If so, it would be the only photographic reminder of him in my home.  The rest of the reminders are in my heart.  With these, I dance.

1987  The first summer in our new home
Nothin' holdin' me down.

Stay tuned for Part Two...Dancing On My Husband's Grave - Dating. This gal's experience, anyway!
Can you imagine the day when you will be extraordinarily happy, or humbly happy, or just a little bit happy?

Friday, January 24, 2014

Death and Dying Taught Me Compassion

Touchy feely compassion.  I used to be baffled by it.  Those who have it assume everybody has it.  Those who don't have it assume nobody has it.  Or do they?

I  like this definition, found  here

"What Is Compassion?

Compassion literally means “to suffer together.” Among emotion researchers, it is defined as the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering.

Compassion is not the same as empathy or altruism, though the concepts are related. While empathy refers more generally to our ability to take the perspective of and feel the emotions of another person, compassion is when those feelings and thoughts include the desire to help. Altruism, in turn, is the kind, selfless behavior often prompted by feelings of compassion, though one can feel compassion without acting on it, and altruism isn’t always motivated by compassion.

While cynics may dismiss compassion as touchy-feely or irrational, scientists have started to map the biological basis of compassion, suggesting its deep evolutionary purpose. This research has shown that when we feel compassion, our heart rate slows down, we secrete the “bonding hormone” oxytocin, and regions of the brain linked to empathy, caregiving, and feelings of pleasure light up, which often results in our wanting to approach and care for other people."

It didn't used to be at the top of my values.  Any kid in a large family lives and breathes by competition.  As the low person on the totem pole, I just wanted people out of my face.  I experienced all of compassion's antonyms, which is unfortunately how too many children live.   Like Greta Garbo, "I [just] want[ed] to be [left] alone".  And, instead of compassion, my late husband and I were guilty in spades of trying to fix each other when the other's suffering tore us up.  "Quick!  Make the suffering go away!  I see the answer.  See things my way and do it!"  After maybe five years of head butting at the beginning of our marriage, we were shamed, I mean invited, into listening instead of giving advice.

Eventually cancer and widowhood turned my world upside down.   I've encountered amazing compassion from people who don't even know me, from people not paid to deliver it.

To me now, compassion feels like the pearl Jesus Christ mentions. 

45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, 46 who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it."
Matthew 13:45-46 NKJV
I've so much to learn and no doubt life will teach me.  For one, no one owes me compassion.  It's a gift from a heart that's been humbled.  For me, getting this message is my upside of widowhood.

Have you seen an upside to widowhood?

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Condolences are nice. What comes after?

Sounds pretty harsh, not warm and fuzzy like I'd prefer.  That pretty much sums up my whole life, not just my post widowhood life.  But a beautiful and frankly unusual thing happened yesterday.  I just lost my cat to cancer. Somebody stepped in and asked if I was doing O.K. following the death of my cat.    "Did you have an O.K. day today?" he asked.  WOW.  Sometimes somebody comes alongside to help when you're hurting. 

I didn't grow up experiencing the comfort of compassion.  I finally learned how compassion feels from God, and a host of other caring people, including my late husband.  My true healing from widowhood's grief came when I began to access the sweet compassion in my own heart.  I still use these words "You're welcome, [my name]" as my mantra.  I just learned there's a term for it : Self-compassion.  Wow, there's a book written about everything, isn't there?  Evidently self compassion is what I've been practicing.  It's working!  As I welcome myself without conditions or restrictions, I find compassion toward myself growing.  I find other people able to give compassion.  I no longer go back to the dry well asking for water from people unable to give.

Here's my answer to my friend's question.  For me, as important as Nip was, I knew from the beginning that I'd have maybe ten years of his furry company, since he was four years old when I adopted him from a pet shelter.  I had eight wonderful years.  I don't feel robbed of a future with him.  I feel grateful for the unconditional love we shared.  That I can't share my love for him now brings tears.  If I come to the point where I need more unconditional love, I'll adopt another pet.  But for now it's much more fun to interact with human beings, you all here, and friends in the flesh.

I wish more people were touchy feely.  Part of that is my fault, because I'm not one to wear my heart on my sleeve. But I'm meeting more touchy feely people in this world, like the sweet veterinarian who wept alongside me as we put my cat to sleep.  And you, who offered condolences.  And the person who asked me afterwards if I'm doing O.K.  Goodness, am I fortunate! You continue to teach me something.  That is, that giving and receiving emotional support, a component of love, leaves a rich legacy of strength, dignity and peace long after its warm embrace cools.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Life threw me another Curve ball

Sorry, this post is a downer.  I'd like you to meet the little boy I adopted after my husband died.  I mentioned him in an earlier post  .

Nip died yesterday.  He was my Alpha cat, my in my face, in my lap, by my side cat.  I was his staff, his Mommy, his BFF.  In the morning he'd walk right over my head, stroke my face and purr deep into my ear.  Wake up!  Feed me NOW!  BEFORE you sit down with your coffee.  

I was just writing last week about making peace with life's inevitable beginnings, middles and endings.  And on Sunday I had a conversation with my sister, saying I wouldn't take expensive, extraordinary measures to extend a pet's life.  The timing of all this is coincidental?

On Sunday Nip was his usual self.  Except that he didn't play long with the catnip. On Monday he ate less.  On Tuesday he completely lost his appetite. A visit to the veterinarian  was in order.  He wailed to me on Wednesday. By that evening the Vet and I knew what Nip probably already knew.  His alpha had reached his omega.  The cause was a tumor in his lung. 

Yesterday the Vet and I eased him gently into kitty heaven.  Nip, I love you.  I miss you.

Thank You, Nip
May you rest peacefully, always have enough food to eat and hugs to reassure you

Born April Fool's Day, 2001 ~ Died January 16, 2014