Chickens, Crystal and Donuts

Sipping iced tea with a healthy dose of lemon juice, I tip back my head and let my eyelids drift shut. Morning sun pools along the edge of the patio where a pair of doves go through their morning ritual of fluffing and exploring the yard as though they’ve only just arrived. Maybe they are going through a safety checklist… looking to make sure there are no hungry cats, no crazy children lurking, and that their favorite roosts are undisturbed. It’s a routine that generally takes them about an hour to complete. Of course, I am not certain it’s the same pair of doves, but I like to think it is. 

The neighbors’ children are out already in a couple of yards edging my own. We have no alley to separate us, so we are joined around a patchwork quilt of fences: four yards bordering mine. The children are laughing and at times shrieking but those are giggling screams so they don’t annoy me in the least. In fact, they stir my own memories of childhood, long past. 

I drift through fragments of those days, like dreams. My brothers and I riding the flexi-flyer down the hill. Or our bikes, early on a Saturday morning. Making intricate mud cookies. Writing notes to the elves who lived in the tree behind the house, but disguised themselves as ants during the day. I had convinced my younger brother that this was the case, and spent an inordinate amount of time creating new ways to provide evidence. There were notes to him, tiny articles of clothing, trails, and sometimes tiny snacks. Life was good. For the most part. 

Sitting here, with the sunlight bringing just the right touch of warmth to the cool morning air, I listen to the gentle chuckles of a neighbor’s hens. They are greeting the day, probably checking out the yard for breakfast. I find them oddly comforting and domestic. Somehow, their gossip reminds me of the mornings in Nigeria and the stillness of mornings there. 

The world here wakes up in layers. And I love those levels of awareness. I allow things into my consciousness as I choose. I can ignore the things that nag me into sullen action and balance those with the joys that also fringe my life. 

My grandson is in the other room, playing some game I probably would thoroughly understand even if he took the thirteen hours I know he would devote to the challenge of explaining it all to me. It is enough that he is there, in the kitchen at our round oak table, on a laptop where I can hear the conversation of the game and the squeaks of his chair. 

I have donut dough rising in the kitchen. It’s been years since I attempted making them, but with the air fryer, almost nothing is too daunting for my unending culinary quests. I worried that the yeast, which according to the packet’s label expired two years ago, would be nonfunctional. But on cue, when I added it to the perfectly warmed milk, with a little sugar, it frothed up in perfection, waiting to be fed the coming flour, egg, and butter. 

It’s rising in a crystal bowl. Covered with a plain white tea towel. I know. It’s a bit… incongruous to have dough rising in a crystal bowl. But life is for enjoying what we have. I used to save the crystal for those extra special moments: fine wine, in-laws, special events. Then the earthquake of ‘83 destroyed most of the crystal my great grandmother had brought to America, and all of the fine bone china tea cups I had set aside for those special days. 

My spouse used a shovel to clean out the kitchen following the quake. Fortunately, I wasn’t here to weep over every broken memory. I had gathered up my baby chicks (Marcy and Michael) and fled to San Diego and my parents’ home for a few days to settle my fears and clutch my babies in safety. 

So when I returned, all the debris was gone. But so was the china and crystal. The local drug store, Thrifty’s at the time, ran a special on china. A Twenty-four piece set was only $20. Bang. Got it. And I used it, A lot. And as I gathered more crystal along the way to replace what I had lost, I decided to use it all the time. Every day is special. And celebrating each day as it blossoms is now a habit. 

So my dough rises in its crystal nest. And I sip my tea.  And even though there are times and moments scheduled for a pleasant day, we really never know just what the hours will bring. 

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Matthew 6:25-34 NIV

Poppy Seed Cookies

Leaning on the door for a minute, she waits for any noises to leak through, hoping Bat Boy has finally fallen asleep. Brushing aside the twinge of guilt, she can’t help but be grateful for the silence that settles over the house as three year old Chad finally drifts off for what she hopes will be a blessed hour alone. 

Funny. Alone wasn’t something she ever thought she’d want. She’d been alone so much of her early years. Alone at home. Alone on the way to school and alone once she got there. When she went. She was alone at most of her meals and weekends and definitely alone when she slept. 

Except for the Raggedy Ann her mother had made for her on her fourth birthday. But that was a secret, so it hardly counted. The rag doll was in a box now. Tucked away in the closet behind a tidy row of shoes. 

All of this flashed through Trudy’s mind as she waits, ear against the door, for an extra 30 seconds. She doesn’t want to get all relaxed only to discover that she has to do a replay of the nap process. She knows someday she’ll miss those moments of singing a song, telling stories, ruffling hair and watching those deep brown eyes slowly flutter until they closed in sleep. 

But for now, she heaves a sigh and heads toward the kitchen. 

Grabbing a bottle of Rose and a wine glass from the counter, she scoops up the book that Ellen left by the key rack when she stopped by this morning. Gack, she thinks, was it only this morning?

Trudy flops down on the wicker chair, settling into the overstuffed pillow nested inside the willowy frame. Sun slants through the window with just the perfect warmth. She watches the sunlight and notices the tiny flecks of dust drifting through the golden cast. She can dust later. Now it’s “me time” she thinks. 

Pouring a glass of wine, she looks at the cover of the book with skepticism. Her eyebrow crooks as she tried to remember anything she’s heard about this author but nothing rings a bell. The picture on the cover, though, is… interesting. A handsome dark haired man with glinting eyes, strong brows, and a chiseled jawline. Nothing like a good cliche, she thinks. 

She flicks the book open and reads the first paragraph. It could be okay, she thinks. She finishes the page with a modicum of approval and uses her pinkie to turn the page as she reaches for a bowl of homemade pretzels to the left of her chair. She can barely reach it, leaning as she smoothes the page open. Barely into the second paragraph, she rolls her eyes and throws the book across the room. 

“I can’t believe this crap,” she says out loud even though there is no one but the dust to hear. “Why does this sort of drivel even see the light of day?”

Between annoyance and the opportunity to hound her sister, she grabs her cell phone from her pocket and pushes the speed dial.

“He stares at her heaving breasts and wonders how long it has been since… Come on, Ellen. On the second page? And she is gripping the coffee cup as though… My gosh this is ridiculous. Even for you!”

There is a warm chuckle on the other end, which finally erupts into helpless full-gutted laughter. “You know you need a little spice in your life,” chortles Ellen. “How long has it been?”

Trudy balances her wine glass on her knee as she lets herself grin. Just a little. “I don’t need you to remind me,” she answers. 

“What kind of sister would I be if I didn’t try to look out for the one who looked out for me?”

“Seriously, Ellen,” Trudy manages to say in a much more sonorous tone. “Just because I randomly discovered that we were sisters doesn’t mean that you need to do anything to pay me back.”

Trudy had done the ancestry thing along with a group of college students who were conducting a research project during her junior year at FSU. It was no big deal. They were just horsing around. The reports came back with all the expected stuff. Some percent this and something else of northern europe or asia or africa. Whatever. It was all casual and just part of a bigger project.

Except that a match had appeared with Trudy’s sample. There was someone searching for her,and this random chance apparently showed a high probability that it was a sibling. Trudy had been contacted by a mediator. It was some social worker or something who asked to meet her and go over some information. 

She never would have guessed in a thousand years what was in store for her. It was the type of thing you might read about in the Enquirer. Her mother had left Trudy right after her seventh birthday. Trudy remembered harsh words between her parents. They weren’t often home at the same time, and when they were, tension laced every scene. One on one, both her parents were pretty much what Trudy supposed was  normal. Then again, she didn’t have any idea what “normal” actually was. 

But that night it was a doozy. No one yelled, but there was a lot of “oof” and “umph” followed by a door slamming. Her mother came into Trudy’s bedroom and sat on the bed, eyes swollen and hands trembling. Trudy hugged the Raggedy Ann and patted her mommy on the back.

“It’s okay, Mommy,” she crooned. But mommy just sat there staring off toward the open window. 

Eventually, mommy looked at Trudy and said, “Remember I love you. No matter what else, remember that.” Then Mommy stood up, smoothing the bedspread as she plucked invisible specks off the skirt of her dress. She clapped her hands once, and said, “That’s that.” Then she turned and walked out the door, heels clacking on the wooden floor. 

And that, as Mommy had said, was that. No more Mommy. Only Daddy. And he wasn’t very much fun any more. He didn’t smile much, and he wasn’t home very much. There was always food in the fridge, and he gave Trudy a very special chain to wear around her neck from which hung a one-of-a-kind house key. Instead of just a metal key, it had a cloisonne face on the top with a rainbow unicorn prancing against a blue sky.

It had been okay. Maybe a little quiet, but Trudy didn’t mind that so much. No one had to nag her to take care of things like a big girl. She had a unique drive to prove herself. Mommy loved her, and that was that. She wanted to make sure she was doing the right thing, so when Mommy came back. She would be proud. 

By the time she was in high school, Trudy had pretty much created such a strong sense of motivation and desire to achieve that none of her teachers were aware of her state of independence. Sure, Dad showed up at least a couple of times a week, but when he did, it was more of a comrade type relationship than father-daughter. 

Whether she was home alone, or Dad was there, Trudy fixed her meals, cleaned up after herself, did her chores and homework with an uncanny sense of responsibility. But from her point of view, she was the core of this home, and she was determined to make it work. Whatever that meant. 

Her hard work paid off, and Trudy got a scholarship to FSU, and flourished in the new setting with others who shared her drive. 

Then the ancestry thing came up, and this woman came to visit. It was pretty much out of the blue. Trudy was living in an apartment with two other girls, and this visit was such an alien thing. The woman had shown up at the front door with a huge bag slung over her shoulder. And by huge, it means absurdly large. The sort of thing Mary Poppins might have used if she was still around these days. 

Trudy let her in and led her to the kitchen where they sat at a formica topped table. Trudy served tea she’d made and put out a plate of cookies one of her roommates had donated to this unexpected side trip. 

Ms. Morgan, it turned out the woman’s name was, hefted her bag to the chair beside her and rummaged noisily through it. She placed items on the table as she rooted. A manilla folder, a rice paper envelope, a sheaf of miscellaneous papers and a small box.

Unravelling a tangled tale of confusing facts, Ms. Morgan explained that after Trudy’s mother had left, a baby had been born some months afterward, but the mother had died without giving much information to anyone who might have helped. No one knew her last name, or anything about any family members. The baby had been adopted by a couple in Wisconsin and all was well until she contracted leukemia. The only hope for her at this point was a bone marrow implant. Because of her unusual DNA, a match had been impossible as of yet, so a net had been found out much further to hopefully find a match. 

Months had passed and the family had nearly given up hope until this sample had shown up out of the blue. A lot more talking took place; phone calls, emails, facetime, and finally, after further tests up the ying yang, and more than a little soul-searching, Trudy made the commitment. 

Long story short, Trudy finally met Ellen, and the two formed a quiet friendship. “Quiet” mostly because of Ellen’s frailty. She’d been battling the illness for three years at that point, and was on a downhill slide with no hope left. The sisters shared childhood stories, future hopes, and eventually the fears Ellen was currently facing. After the transplant, Ellen’s improvement was slow but consistent. Ten years later, Ellen was considered in remission and relatively healthy. 

Ellen’s parents were overcome with gratitude, but Trudy brushed off their generous offers of compensation, explaining that family is important, so it was really nothing special she had done. They welcomed Trudy into the circle of their family, though, and even took time to invite her father to join in events as well.

During the interim, Trudy had gotten married to the mechanic who fixed her car alongside I-5 one blistering August afternoon. She’d been stranded just off the highway where she’d hauled the car on its last breath. Her cell phone has zero bars, and she was down to half a bottle of water along with an apple core. She was drawing circles in the gravel with her boot counting crickets, when a battered tow truck pulled up behind her dead car.

Overcoming her distrust, Trudy agreed to let the stranger look under the hood. Turned out that it was something with the timing belt or whatever. He could fix it alright, but the part would have to be ordered or picked up from another town. The man had offered her a tow and a ride into town. He took the car to the shop where he worked and even helped her find a room at the Motel 6. 

Back on the road, Trudy drove with a smile, remembering Jack’s kindness and warm laughter. So she wasn’t totally surprised when he showed up a few nights later to take her out for dinner. The rest, as the cliche says, is history. 

The part that wasn’t part of the cliche, though, was what happened down the road. Literally. A couple years later, Jack answered a call for help out on the highway again and stopped to help a guy in a broken down truck. It didn’t end well. Jack lived to tell the tale, but only barely. He was still in rehab, learning how to deal with the ‘body modifications’ he’d received due to the encounter. 

In the meantime, Trudy was glad that the rehab center was just half an hour from their home. It wasn’t what she’d signed up for, but Trudy wasn’t complaining. He was due to come home in another three weeks. 

“It’s not like he’s dead, so I don’t need a trashy novel to get any juices going,” Trudy reiterated. “And I wouldn’t think you’d be reading this crap either.” She can’t help but give her head a shake. Seriously. Ellen has a zesty life married to a semi-professional extreme sports athlete. She lives the life that juicy books imitate, so what’s the point. 

“You’re right,” Ellen answers, still laughing. “We read them out loud to each other and try some of the scenes depicted just to see if they’re even possible.”

“And?” Trudy sips her wine and studies the reflection of blue sky in the stem of her glass. 

“Let’s just say that even we, in our amazing physical fitness, have a tough time reenacting that stuff. And then we just end up laughing and having more fun than…” Ellen trails off, laughing all over again. 

“I’d rather read a cookbook and try the recipes than That junk,” Trudy says. “Speaking of which, I want to have a picnic in the back yard when Jack comes home. I want you and Wally to come. And bring the dogs, of course.”

“I can just see it. Jack lording it over the rest of us peons, all serving his every whim,” says Ellen. “But if the dogs are there, the whole picture changes.”

“Yeah, I know. But that’s why I want them here.” Trudy pictures the pair of mismatched huskies along with the chihuahua. One large, healthy husky, a second, older husky blind in one eye and completely deaf, and the silly little dog who thought he was the alpha male. The three were constantly getting into mischief and were incorrigible to say the least. 

The antics and destruction lying in their wake was enough to distract from the grimmest of circumstances. And Jack’s homecoming seemed to merit just that touch. 

As if on cue, Trudy’s calico cat, Fizzy, peeps her head out from behind a vase of sunflowers on the far windowsill. Not a fan of company in general, Fizzy would be just as happy to never see another canine again. On the other hand, or paw, she isn’t one to back down from a challenge. 

“Okay, well, nail down a day and a time, and tell me what to bring. Besides the boys.” 

The two women laugh a little more. Ellen at ease, and Trudy on the edge of ease but still arranging the details of her future in the last remaining remnants of her quiet space. 

She tips her head against the back of the wicker, and watches the sky tilted upside down from where she sits. The escape of a book isn’t really what she needs after all. She just needs to take measure of the blessings around her, and hold onto the new reality. Lord knows, a lot of things have to be changed before Jack comes home. 

But some things, she hopes, will never change. The magic of the sleeping boy. The company of a lazy cat. The love of a sister. The golden sun warming her face. 

As for something to read, well, she knows there is a book on her shelf in the kitchen she loves. She never tires of it. It is the recipe book her grandmother hand wrote. Along with each recipe is a story, a poem, a prayer, some entry to give the recipe a life of its own. The Yiddish recipes never fail to help her create tasty treats and festive, hearty meals. 

She pads to the kitchen, setting her empty glass on the counter as she pulls out the thich blue tome. She turns to the story about the thieves who stole poppy seed cookies. This afternoon, Bat Boy (AKA Chad), and she will make a batch together, and she will read the story to him. 

Slipshod Attitude

I sidled into church this morning. Not the first church I’d attended today. I was at the Pres church at 9 for rehearsal and the service where I play music. Then I went over to the church where I am a member. I was excited. It was the first time they had church since the quarantine went into effect on March 19.

I went in, greeted by the gentlemen outside, and sat in a back pew. These are pews that line the very back of the church – by themselves – where parents might sit with squirmy kids and where many handicapped individuals also sit because it’s more convenient…
No one was around me. A woman sat in a pew about six feet in front of me (in the last real pew). So I settled in to listen to the sermon already going on.

Good stuff. I’m immersed in listening to the pastor when I notice one of the two greeters has come in and is talking to me. I have a hard time understanding him because he has a mask on and because he’s trying not to disturb anyone else.

It seems that my seat is not sanctioned for public seating. I was supposed to sit in a pew with a green stripe down the back. Huh? I can’t even see the green stripes because of my failing eyesight. I’m amazed that I even made it to a proper seat in the dim light.

He motions to another pew about 20 more feet away.

I am not quite enough into the sermon to be the gracious Christian that I know I should be, so I don’t respond in the best way. I point out that I am as far away from others as I am supposed to be. He responds by telling me the green is where I am supposed to be. And starts telling me about the rules. I point out that I actually typed all the rules out for the newspaper and am quite familiar with each and every one of them. I keep from mentioning that green stripes are not part of the deal and since they apparently are here, that someone could have told me.

I don’t know why, but I am exhausted. Being partially blind these days stakes an enormous toll on me both emotionally and physically. I am not welcoming having to get up and move. I think back to both of these guys seeing I am parked in a handicapped spot for a reason. I’m handicapped with an attitude to match my physical problems today, and sadly, I am not in a great mood. I don’t feel like having to get up and move. For no real reason other than some guy was told to enforce the rules.

I sit there with (I’m sure) a stony/grouchy expression. He says nevermind, it’s okay. Except it’s not. I know darned well he is going to go back into the foyer and discuss what they should do about me or anyone else who is non-compliant.

I can’t just sit there and behave. I am way too emotional these days. Frustration, fear (yet, to be honest, I don’t really want to be blind), and just angst. If I get up, I say to myself, it’s going to be to leave. Almost on their own, my legs straighten and next thing I know, me and my mask are leaving. I bite my tongue wanting to say something snarky when I past the two guys. Actually, I may have something. I don’t remember.

Then, I just drove home. God can just talk to me here. I’m still tired, frustrated and afraid. And now I’m sad too, because that wasn’t my best moment. But I was just so danged disappointed.

The sermon was talking about praying for each other and caring.
Prayer and Care. yup.

lost

shards of glass
stud the blue inked sky
sprawling
tumbling
ever spinning through space

empty frozen space
of silence
except the wind
howling
through my hair

breathing
stuttered bits
of broken dreams
trying to hold on
to the bits
of night
shattered
in pieces
on the crumbled
earth

orion winks
unaware
of
this
end
of
dr..
..ea..
….m….

s

Just a Little Yarn

I was the Great Despair at 2920 B Street. My grandmother, “Mama Marge” who was too Young to be called Grandma, made weird little clucking sounds made even weirder by the cigarette dangling from the corner of mouth. She’d peer at me over her glasses and shake her head in dismay at whatever feat I’d most recently pulled.

I wasn’t stupid, but I wasn’t the cleverest child when it came to churning out beautiful embroidery samplers and was incredibly non-motivated to achieve any recognition in my ability (or willingness) to clean my room. One of her biggest disappointments sprang from her quest to inculcate me with the gift of knitting. I spent hours of my childhood helping her re-roll skeins of yarn to meet her specifications. I rearranged her yarn collection by color, weight, and content. I also arranged her massive heap of needles and hooks, placing them reverently into pouches and bags, ready for her next creation.

She sat me down with a pair of needles and a skein of bright yellow yarn. My heart pounded in anticipation and fear. I have no idea which was stronger. I dreaded being “in trouble” any more than usual, but I was also excited about learning how to make the needles click and clack like hers. I loved the rhythm of her needles snicking and ticking deep into the night. I was often mesmerized by the sound of those needles and knew exactly where she was sitting at any time of the night when she was watching over us.

So I sat there on her sofa, clumsily gripping my shiny blue needles with a lap full of the yellow yarn. It’s all a blur after that golden moment of anticipation. I bombed. I held the needles too tightly, she said. I couldn’t manage to keep the yarn untangled. My shoulders were hunched. I didn’t listen well enough. I was distracted. Couldn’t (or wouldn’t) sit still, for Pete’s sake.

I have no idea how long our session lasted or if there were more after this first one. I only know that the end result was Marge thoroughly washing her hands of me. At least in the knitting department. After that era, she never revisited the possibility of my ever acquiring the skills to knit. Apparently the knitting gene skipped me.

So I was startled on my twenty-first birthday to have her sort of shove me back onto the couch in her new home, giving me a hook this time, and blue yarn. She had just given me a buttercup yellow dress she’d designed and created. The floor length dress had crocheted insets at the waist and yoke. The handwork was exquisite; tiny stitches of knotted thread crocheted into  delicate perfection.

She flounced out of the room and returned with another hook and roll of yarn. I asked, in confusion, what was happening as I’d understood that she was never going to teach me how to knit, since I was unteachable. Without missing a beat, Marge shook her head and explained that we certainly were Not going to be knitting, but rather crocheting. Any idiot could see that. Hmm. Perhaps if they knew that crocheting existed. At that time, I could macrame and embroider but beyond that, had no thread, twine or yarn skills.

We hunkered down with determination as she told me I wasn’t going to leave the house until I could crochet, and since it was my birthday, I sure had other things in mind to celebrate the twenty-first one! In less than an hour I could chain, single crochet and double crochet. I could even read patterns! I sat wearing my new dress, grimly determined not to disappoint my grandmother one more time, and tried to enjoy the task at hand.

This year I hauled out the buttercup yellow dress. It fits. I’d been looking at the massive amounts of yarn which have been donated to imaginarium through the years. I’d heard of a Worthy Cause: Kids undergoing chemo therapy at Valley Children’s Hospital in Madera needed more hats. I’d heard someone say that there were never enough. And a plot was hatched.

Being relegated to my own couch these days, as I have worked toward wholeness through several health issues, I have fought off depression, feeling useless and separated from the Real World. But THIS was a cause. It was something I could do. I had not actually crocheted any (wearable) hats in my life but I figured, I can do this. After all, how difficult can this be? I could crochet. I could read. I could count. Bring it on.

Twenty hats later, I can breathe a sigh of relief and declare that yes, I CAN crochet hats. I can even make not ugly ones. I can even sort of read a pattern. Somehow, though, something always goes awry. Don’t get me wrong. The hats are cute. They are various colors and sizes. They are mostly non-weird. But I am far from confident.

I made four or so berets before I managed to get a beanie made. I am still not totally sure exactly what I did wrong, but it’s obvious that something wasn’t quite right. In the meantime, my berets totally rock. I had no idea I could be so inventive in my stitches. I learned a new one: butterfly stitch. Except that MY butterfly stitch does not look that much like the pictures. I’m not sure where I went wrong, or how. All I know is that it’s a very different look. My hats have all sorts of cool textures and colors. They are chunky or soft or long or short or clunky or sleek. They are all unique, and I try to imagine who will wear each one.

I dream about the kids and hope that they will find smiles and hope and wholeness. I pray for them and their families. And their friends. Especially the friends who face the fear of losing a buddy, of not knowing how to give their hearts words, of watching their sick friend fight a battle no one else can share. I am thankful neither of my kids were ever in that situation and grateful for the robust health of my grandchildren. I catch my breath for a moment in the memory of one grandson who warned me never to be too happy, because everything can change in a heartbeat. How well I know this.

The hats are lined up on the counter at imaginarium. They perch there as a perky charm against this disease: cancer. They wait for more to join their ranks. I have the goal (at the moment) of having fifty hats. I am over half way. I am not the only one making the caps. There are others who wind their yarn and clack their needles.

A terrible thing happened, and I need to confess. The whole point of this project, or at least the INITIAL point and goal of this project was to use the scraps of yarn we have piled up at imaginarium. Then I read about a sale. I thought, I’ll just get a couple of different colors and textures. Just for accents. Over a hundred dollars later, I recognize and accept that I am a yarn hoarder. I STILL have mountains of yarn at imaginarium, and now I also have mountains of yarn at home as well. I love all of it. I love the way the yarn feels. I love the way the yarns contrast, and folds as I crochet.

My hook is silent in its work but I keep an eye on the flick of my wrist and the growing work in my hands. Again, I wonder about the children. It’s easy to worry, but I resist the temptation. Instead, I hold these unknown children in my heart and pray for each one. My own stack of hooks lies beneath my mini desk in front of my sofa. I sit here most of the time when I am not at work. I watch TV and crochet. My plan is coming to be. The collection looks good. I still can’t knit. But I can hook. And I can read. And I can count. And before Thanksgiving, I will have these hats, these offerings of love, bits of yarn along with the new pieces, I will have it all taken to Valley Children’s, and I will offer the love and hope in my heart to the children who would much rather not have a hat, but have their hair. And their classrooms and classmates.

Thank you to all of you who have shared yarn or patterns or encouragement. I believe that each person has something they can share with others; just some little thing that can lift someone else up from their humdrum day or their really rotten day. I try to watch for little moments where I can do or say something to bring a laugh, a smile, a lilt in a footstep… some moment of sunshine in an overcast day. Join me! You can find your own way to share love. It’s all good.

Back in the Saddle (Again)

It’s been a crazy couple of years. I’ve been challenged with some rather hefty physical … ailments which have thrown me off my normal paths and sucked my energy and emotional center dry. I’ve been distracted by self-centered care for which I don’t really apologize but do recognize that my focus has been off the grid, away from a lot of things very dear to me.

Last month after being told that my physical situation is not apt to improve at all, I balked against the obvious response of disappointment and yes, a little fear as well. Relegated to using a walker, being dependent on others’ help, constant exhaustion and more, I floundered to regain my inner footing. I’ll confess that I wallowed more than a tad in self pity. I also went through alternating moments of denial and despair.

After taking personal inventory (again) I have decided NOT to give in to the dark side (even though I’ve heard they have cookies). It’s easy to sit back and let things go downhill when you’ve been told that this is what’s in store for you. Being “kicked out” of physical therapy did nothing to dissuade my supposedly eminent doom.

I bought a stationary bike a couple weeks ago and have been working on building up some physical strength again. My legs had been crying out for some fun, and since I can’t walk around the block without a companion to make sure I don’t fall, get eaten by starving neighborhood cats or licked to death by wandering dogs, I was happy to have the option of the Motionless Bike. Today my wonderful spouse adjusted the pedals’ distance so it works better, and I am basking $80 well spent.

I also started doing curls with my measly little 5 pound weights. This is ironic because I am not supposed to lift anything OVER 5 pounds, and am restricted from any sort of reaching or stretching while bearing any weight. It’s all about control, or so I’ve been told. SO now I am also doing my reps of 25 each on several old physical therapy from the days before I was kicked out. I should point out that the reason for my expulsion from PT was not due to a lack of compliance or enthusiasm but rather the fact that my body kept breaking and falling apart while doing the requisite exercises.

This week Judy Painter gave me a very nice back brace which she is no longer using. It’s fabulous and offers support and confidence as I move about. My goal – and yes, I may be tempting fate by saying it – is to be able to walk without my walker OR cane by the end of the year. I want to be able to walk on the beach unassisted by January 1.

Anyone who has had an illness or injury that really knocked them down knows that weakness is a monster which gnaws away along with its buddy, pain. These two critters have chewed on me, tied me up, beaten me, kidnapped me, and batted me about the ears until I very nearly gave up. BUT… I am fighting back.

There are things I can’t fight. I will always be shorter and shorter. I am currently 5’1″ although if I stand REALLY tall, I reach 5’2″. That’s not going to change. My spine is twisted and fragile. That’s not going to change (unless God does something about it). I’m still goofy and easily distracted. But those are all things I can work with.

I walked to the kitchen to get a refill on my iced tea, groaning with the ache of my bones but simultaneously happy because I THINK I have these aches from exercising as much as from my evil monsters, Igor and Goolie (pain and weakness). But I have a goal. I have the means to reach it. I hope to be NOT complaining so much, but eagerly looking forward to success, growth and change.

Thanks for being a friend. And yes, I am ASSuming that since you are reading this, you are a friend. Or a stalker. Both are fine as long as you encourage me and poke me in the elbow if I get all whiny!

Back To The Future

Did you ever have one of those times when you had planned something down to the smallest details, only to have the entire thing blow up in your face? John Lennon may have captured the thought best when he wrote: Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans. We all know what happened to Mr. Lennon. Eventually.

Life was going along pretty well. My projects were getting the attention and time needed to show great results. I’d even been keeping my resolutions fairly well. The kitchen and laundry were completed on a regular schedule. The living room is ALWAYS clean enough to have a guest come in. That may seem trivial or automatic but I assure you, it’s often the last thing on a list. But I have made it a habit!

My commitment even reached into imaginarium where (with Juan’s help) we managed to have the lobby cleaned every single day. I had lessons planned out, had all the tiny pieces cut out; What a deal! This was going to be a spectacular year.

I purchased some tan pleather with which to face the counter in the lobby. It’s been a bright red far too long. I was excited about the project so I wasted no time in trimming the huge sheets into the size I needed and Juan industriously tore into the project with enthusiasm. Three of us worked like the dickens on it. As Juan  worked to get each section back into place, Becky and I jiggle the counter top so it would be secure and balanced.

It looked awesome. This fabric (fake leather) LOOKED so very nice and generically matched with the counter top itself as well as the very worn carpet. We were at the very last little shove to get the facing to click in under the cabinet top. Becky and I were lifting the counter top and Juan was pushing Beneath for a finished look. We were all very impressed with impending results.

So there we were. three adults with a relatively simple job when all of the sudden it went Wrong. I felt a clunk along with a searing pain in my back. I tried to let go of the counter but I was also afraid of smashing Becky’s fingers. I sank to the ground with Becky and Juan lowering me to a soft landing rather than a total crash.I’ll spare you all the details and jump to the grand finale: I had, indeed. broken a vertebra. At least it’s in a new section (L1) and not a repeat performance.

There are some things this old girl just knows. I can’t even count the number of breaks I’ve had but each one is an adventure.I immediately thought of all the fun things I had planned: a party. a cool rehearsal with the band, husband’s trip, sewing project… Then I had to go do something I new was risky. On the bright side, the counter looks great.I’ve had plenty of time to review my priorities at imaginarium, family plans, fun things I’d looked forward to. And all the rearranging of those plans. What a mess.
We started calling students while I was still on the floor of the lobby. I have a minimum of TWO weeks to do nothing. And as fun as that may sound, it does NOT mean that I get to go to the beach and lounge around. Nor does it mean I get to hang around the house getting pedicures or even practicing the piano or guitar.I am supposed to lie relatively flat and not turn and twist a lot.
I do not get to practice the piano or work on guitar. I am not supposed to draw/sketch. This is my grand opportunity to watch TV/Netflix and talk on the phone.I am very grateful for being allowed to return home for this recuperation. When my doctor suggested going to the Ralph Neate Center for a while I nearly rose up and carried my bed in a fit of “HELL NO!”
But alas, I am still in this very breakable body. I am VERY thankful to Becky Todd, Juan Vazquez, Misty Armstrong and Alicia Nix who hauled me around until EMT arrived fro the Coalinga Fire Department. EMT crew did a wonderful job and although I hope NOT to see them from the ground view, it’s good to see they are on their game.

My First Guy

“My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me.” – Jim Valvano. He was my first love and impressed me with his many talents and strong resolve.

Dad took us on our first camping trip after my little brother was born. He took my older brother and me up into the mountains where we slept under the stars. I was three yet the memory of night time stars is etched with clarity in my mind.We laid there and Dad explained what stars were and how to find the north star.Dad patiently taught us about the stars for years until we could finally explain the planets, stars and other celestial bodies on our own which led to sleeping in the yard with alarm clocks nearby so we could check out Saturn or a comet at3 AM.

Saturdays were invented for Dad. I helped Dad grease ball bearings, cut gaskets, change oil, replace brake pads, build furniture, sand projects, varnish surfaces and other handy things. This isn’t to say that ALL my time was spent with Dad. I also fed my younger brother mud cookies, trapped bees in jars, looked for geodes in the canyon, tore around on bikes, flew kites, built forts and a thousand other last arts. But I loved spending time with Dad on whatever project he was doing.

He took us to his classroom where he was teaching metal shop. He taught us how to use the massive tools to cut sheets of metal into little boxes for gifts to Mom or a fantasy control panel for the X-15 into which we soldered a myriad of dials, switches and buttons which actually lit up and made noises.

One Saturday when rain was drenching the streets Dad took all three of us kids on a walk through the park. I donned my bright red galoshes and shiny raincoat. We trekked through puddles and mud like Dr. Livingston in darkest Africa. We thrashed through tall grass in the recesses of Balboa Park and stomped in the biggest puddles we could find. The day is a monument of Fatherhood in my memory. It wasn’t until years later I learned that Mom had a migraine and really needed some time alone. Dad was not only a hero to me, but also to Mom.

It wasn’t until Dad and I sat with Mom as she lay dying, that the bond of love between us became boldly apparent. We held her hands, praying and nervous as she took her last breath, and it was in that moment that I felt born anew with this single parent at the helm of my ship. I realized how much my father meant to me, my last stronghold of the values and reasons I am who I am. I held onto him with an iron grip.

In contrast with my colorful mother, Dad was the strong, silent type. He made the bed with military corners, and had everything “just so.” But he ran deep. I was blessed when I had the privilege of spending ample time with him during his last ten days. I had the freedom of time to practically live in his hospital room in San Diego as he fought through the last days. It was intense, quiet, boisterous,rowdy, sad, and final. At the end, I was satisfied and content that I had left NOTHING unsaid, no love withheld, no action undone. I was blessed to have had the time to massage oil into nearly every inch of his body while telling him how much I loved him and appreciated the countless memories of love and wisdom he had shared with us.

No one in the world loves us like the one who taught us love and life. Not every Dad has the same gifts and abilities, but every father does the best they can at the time. Take a moment to love your father if you still have him. If you don’t, spend some time remembering him, or doing something loving in his honor.For those who never had the blessing of a wonderful father, take time to BE that person for someone else; even if you’re not a guy. You can give that memory to someone else.

Literary Observations From An Old Woman

I enjoy reading. I enjoy all sorts of reading: books, magazines, blogs, newspapers, labels in clothing, fast food wrappers, etc. I am chronically afflicted with the desire to read. I have always read, and remember sitting with my brothers and either or both of my parents who would read to us patiently and endlessly. I remember Mom reading Treasure island, Curious George, Five Little Peppers and how They Grew, Henry Huggins (and all the accompanying books), Dr. Seuss, Karen, Safari, Annapurna… and a lot more. Almost anything was game. So it’s not a surprise that this is one of my favorite ways to spend time.

But I have become a disillusioned reader. I remember the first time I read a book by Koontz. I was going along and suddenly, what I thought was a good old mystery became some supernatural epic tale of unbelievable events. I was surprised by my gut rejection of this genre but quickly and completely crossed Koontz off my list of prospective reading material. As a young mother, I’d frequent the public library grazing through the stacks. I’d grab a pile of books and finish them up like the confirmed bibliophile I am still. I was stunned when one of the innocuous novels I brought home depicted a graphic sexual attack by a woman against a man.

In those days the books had cards in the backs of the books which were used to sign out each one. A “date due” card was then placed in the pocket in return. When I had a difficult time deciding whether to read a book or not, I’d scroll down the signatures looking for friends who’d read the same book. Now I was appalled that my name would be forever imprinted on the sign-out card. I strode to the counter and explained my dilemma to the librarian, naively believing that their quiet demeanor represented a conservative ideology. The woman at the desk stared at me as though I was insane when I explained my shock and dismay at having innocently embarked on what was obviously a filthy book AND having my name inscribed as a reader on the book’s card. I wanted my name removed. I wanted a warning on the card. I suggested a red line. Or a star. or something to denote that this was a “mature” subject. I was pretty much laughed out of the library although a kind-hearted older librarian sweetly made out a fresh card for the book; a card without MY name on it.

These days I do a lot of reading on my newly procured Kindle. I’ve re-read a few favorites and explored new books, hungrily soaking up the words. But I find that I must proceed with caution. So many tales now revolve around sex. Well, okay, I admit that most stories on some level or another include a good dose of sex (pun intended). It’s not the sex I object to, but rather the salacious manner in which it is done. Do I really need to know every detail? Do I need a description of each person’s anatomy? Do I need a blow by blow picture (pun intended again)?

I am so deeply disappointed in what seems to be so common that it is generally accepted, apparently. Really, I don’t think I’d object to the sex, salacious or not, if it didn’t seem to be the pivot point of just about every incident in some of the books I’ve taken a look at recently. Sexual encounters run amok. Boy meets girl. They have sex. “Oh, what was your name?” It’s no wonder our culture is so rampant with casual sex and dysfunctional relationships. Yes, every generation faults the ones coming on its heels, but my friends, it does seem to be the case. And not just the ones younger than I, but my own generation is rampant with its own revolution of failed free love, focusing on its own gratification rather than greater depth.

I do not mean to belittle everyone. There are many, many people who have lived extraordinary lives of giving and sacrifice; love and mercy. I also don’t mean to appear as a total prude. Sex is great. But not ALL sex is great. And not all sex is meant to be shared. There are, I’m sure, wonderful ways to do it, and I’m sure that there are quite a few authors and poets who came along after Solomon who were more than capable of doing so.

I just wish there was some way to know what I am buying or borrowing before I have to read about some detail I’d really rather not know. I’d like to know what’s safe to share with a younger reader without having to read the whole thing myself. I just finished a “young adult” piece of fiction and was appalled not only by the sexual content but also the criminal behavior, profanity, and lack of negative consequences for the protagonist and his pals. Oy vey. Feeling old. Feeling old indeed. What to do? 

Sometimes Pink Stinks

This is the original article as it appeared the Coalinga Recorder, October 15.

In a rare moment of marital bliss, I watched football with my spouse last week. Something was wonky with the color on the TV. Squinting, I was confused by splashed of bright pink. I saw pink shoes, pink gloves, pink towels and more. Then it hit me: National Breast Cancer Awareness. October brings World Series, Halloween, Captain Kangaroo Day, National Reptile Awareness Day (I am not making this up), and of course, National Breast Cancer Awareness month. Eclipsing nearly all other events (most of which I have not listed) is National Breast Cancer Awareness.

There is a bizarre conflict in what seems to be a breast cancer fest and the reality of the disease and its destruction. Having lost my mother to this disease, I fight back the bile of bitterness whenever the pink pops up. I have nothing against the efforts,really, but my own experience with BC was so catastrophic that my reaction is vitriolic.

And I have questions. There a real sorts of National Cancer Awareness days and months: Colorectal, Childhood Cancer, Leukemia, Lung, Pancreatic, Prostate, Thyroid, Testicular, Brain, and more. I can guarantee that there will be no flings or galas to promote Colorectal Cancer Awareness month or even Testicular Cancer Awareness, and those are significant diseases. Why not?

I went to most of a Walk For Life event once. I had to leave when they lit the bags for survivors of breast cancer. I’d already bit my tongue off each time I heard about how brave these survivors were, how hard they fought, how strong they were. I don’t resent their success. I resent the implication that those who died gave up, weren’t strong, weren’t brave or somehow caused their demise. No.

My mother fought. She struggled.She loved strongly. She gave everything she had for others. She agreed to treatments and did everything the medical advisers told her to do. She tried with every cell, but in the end, there was no way for her to compete with the vicious disease which eventually stole her life. It wasn’t because she didn’t try hard enough or didn’t care. We all lived through the stages of her disease; giddy response to the news that the all lymph nodes were clear, the tattoos to show where the targets for radiation, handfuls of hair leading to a wig, the cane,the fatigue, the loss of appetite, seeing her slip into the haze of relief from her pain. I watched. I held her. I wept.

She is my hero. She lived each day to the fullest, even in the midst of her cancer. She tried, but she could not beat the disease. It’s not because she didn’t want to. I twist inside, listening to the many wonderful stories of victory and success, not because I don’t appreciate them and love the happy outcomes, but because I have no story of conquest. I have no happy ending except to know my mother is beyond the pain.

So this is for all the others,the ones whose cancer doesn’t get a pretty pink ribbon or a tribute from football players. It’s for the ones who fight and don’t win. It’s for the children who fight and have no idea what they are fighting or why. It’s for the ones who love fiercely; both in illness and in loving someone who is stricken. It’s for the dreams still dancing on the edge of pain. It’s for the scars on the bodies and hearts of all of us who dare to love. Who dare to hope.

Don’t misunderstand me. I am NOT saying that awareness is bad. I do NOT have any ill feelings toward survivors or others fighting cancer. I am NOT saying that cancer research is bad. I don’t even hate pink.

_____________________________________________________

When you see the pink ribbon and read a small statement about a portion of your purchase going to Breast Cancer research, take a moment to read a little further. What is the truth about what this company is going to contribute? Is it a viable effort? Has the company already committed to an amount which they are planning to give whether or not you purchase their product? Is the company actually giving anything to breast cancer research?

There are a few websites which break down the financial records for charitable giving and non-profits. You can easily see the spread of a company’s expenditures and without a degree in economics, understand the proportion of actual research or support given by that group as opposed to money spent on fund raising, administration, and other items. It’s extremely useful to be aware of this if you want your contributions to actually DO something. CharityNavigator.org is an excellent resource and a good place to start. You can find the entire budget outlined for you there. Simply input the group or organization you want to investigate, and voila! It’s there.

Here are some links you can use to check up on that non-profit or corporation:

http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/NCI/research-funding

http://obf.cancer.gov/financial/factbook.htm

http://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=search.summary&orgid=6495#.VD6ZdRaK1ng

http://www.bcaction.org/our-take-on-breast-cancer/patients-before-profits/the-cancer-industry/

http://www.alternet.org/story/154010/i_will_not_be_pinkwashed%3A_komen%27s_race_is_for_money,_not_cure

http://www.cnn.com/2012/10/23/health/breast-cancer-awareness/

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/04/26/a-pink-rethink-breast-cancer-spending-comes-under-the-microscope.html

http://www.mnn.com/lifestyle/responsible-living/stories/pink-october-where-does-money-from-the-breast-cancer-movement-g

http://dailycaller.com/2013/10/16/how-much-of-the-nfl-breast-cancer-gear-revenue-actually-goes-to-research/

http://www.slate.com/blogs/quora/2013/02/07/where_do_the_millions_of_cancer_research_dollars_go_every_year.html