Monday, December 26, 2005

Young and Old

Baby Charlotte had a stressful first Christmas. She tested positive for RSV and spent Christmas night and today in the hospital. As a medical transcriptionist by trade, I am always ready to research information on anything medical, so I did some searches on the Internet about RSV. Doctors like to monitor RSV in infants because it can so often turn into pneumonia, which, of course, can be fatal at such a young age.

Charlotte only has one risk factor - that of her age (6 weeks). At a birth weight of 10-1/2 pounds, she definitely was not premature, nor did she have any other risk factors on the list. Only her neonate status.

I found it interesting that the very young are at risk for RSV - and the very old.

People my age are called the Sandwich Generation. Many of us are caring for children still at home and at the same time, having to care for aging parents. Both groups rely on us to be there, demanding our attention, energy, concern, money, and love.

Today I had to work, although it was understandably very hard to focus, as Charlott'e condition was very much on my mind. I transcribed a report of a 91-year-old woman. They admitted her to the hospital with the symptoms of pneumonia, to monitor her and try to catch the disease with antibiotics. As I listened to her diagnoses and plans for treatment, I was thinking about this old lady and young Charlotte, both having to be hospitalized for a respiratory illness because their health risk factors make them vulnerable.

Viruses that might visit the healthy adult population as a minor inconvenience suddenly become extremely dangerous when they fall into the very young and very old. Both the very young, and frequently the very old, are also totally dependent on others for their care, what the medical community calls their "activities of daily living" (bathing, dressing, toileting, etc.) So many of Hurricane Katrina's victims were poor, but the very old and very young - those who were dependent on others for their very lives - shouldered the most burden.

I once for fun rewrote all the Christmas carols from the viewpoint of an old man. The most provocative one, I think, was The Little Drummer Boy. In my version, the old man is looking at the Baby Jesus and remarks, "He has no teeth like me; he has no hair like me." Babies and old folks might have more in common than we realize!

It's the cycle of life. What goes around comes around. The alpha and omega. We are born dependent and we so often die dependent. And I guess it's just as frustrating for the baby as for the old person. It is hard to be so vulnerable, our very lives dependent on others' responsible (or irresponsible) natures. At these two extreme stages of life, some are blessed to have that support in place. Others, unfortunately, are not.

Ed, when he was a pastor, once visited the beside of a dying woman. He told me she was ready to go, and he knew that because she was in the fetal position. A fetal position - ready to leave the world she knew and be born again into another. From womb, back to womb.

I have heard it said that every society will be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable citizens. I think as individuals and as a society we need to be reminded every so often who fits in the "risk category" for that label and act accordingly.

Charlotte came home from the hospital this evening. I don't know what will happen to the 91-year-old lady. But she is in my heart as well.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Under the microscope

I had another opportunity to fool around with Photoshop, the editing software, this week. I was uploading another photo of myself to an MT site, and all of a sudden, my curiosity was piqued and I performed the greatest of fear feats, more horrible than King Kong, more scary than Fear Factor. I decided to use the microscope tool and zone in on my face.

Awash with the feeling that I definitely should not be doing it, I zoomed in on a pink spot I considered a defect. Then I zoomed a little more. Anyone with photo editing experience can deduce what I saw next. I saw no defect. I saw no skin, no face, no follicles, no cells. All I saw were pixels. Various color pixels. Unrecognizable pixels. Meaningless pixels.

Where was the defect? I even got geographically lost on my face. I couldn't even remember exactly where I was in the picture. My cheek? My chin? My forehead? Good grief!

I reversed the microscope and zoomed back out, then out some more. Ah, there I was! It was my face! With the defect! Clear as day!

I repeated the steps, zooming in, zooming out. The difference was amazing. The entire picture was made up of pixels (thousands? millions?) which, standing alone, had no identity and no meaning. But together, they made up my face.

It seemed kind of backwards, really. Usually the closer in you get to something, the larger the defect looms. Instead, on closer microscopic-like inspection, defect had virtually disappeared.

One of Ed's sermon involved a cross-stitch picture I had made (and never had framed). He showed the congregation the back of the picture. It was a mess of tangled threads and colors that twisted and criss-crossed with pieces of thread hanging off where they were cut. It was basically unrecognizable as a picture. He would say, "That's what our lives look like to us."
Then he turned the picture over and showed the congregation the front - a perfect, well-stitched picture. Then he would say, "And that's what our lives look like to God."

I am always brought to a new level in thinking when something like this happens. When you look at yourself (and humanity) through God's eyes, you see the recognizable picture. And somehow, the defects recede and you focus on the beauty of the picture. It's my wish for all of us this year.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Light a candle

Every once in awhile in my reading I will come across an interesting tidbit that I feel led to share with others. In the latest issue of Oxygen, there is an article called "Your Key to Success in Life." One of those keys, the article maintains, is resiliency - the ability to bounce back after life knocks you down. By the time you are my age, you've had your share of those situations. In a perfect world, age brings wisdom, but not always, so I am always anxious to hear others' experiences about their ability to transcend failure and disappointment.

The woman quoted in this article is Dr. Carol Orsborn, speaker and author. Here's her take on not letting negative emotions defeat you: "It's important to feel your emotions, but sometimes when you're in a crisis situation you have to be able to set them aside momentarily," she says.

Admit to yourself how big the emotional wound is and buy a candle that matches how upset you are. Some upsets are little and require a birthday candle. Other upsets are worth bigger candles, which you can burn for an hour a night. As long as the candle burns, allow yourself to feel your emotions. When the candle burns out, it's time to move on.

I was impressed with this idea. So simple, yet potentially so effective.

When Ed was going to AA and getting sober, he was frequently warned about the "pity pot." "Get off the pity pot," they would say at meetings when a member would just have depressing and discouraging things to say and would not come out of a funk. My friend Bernie, before she died when she was in the last stages of hepatitis C, would ask her husband permission for a few minutes to complain, then it was over with and she resumed her usual positive attitude.

I really like the candle idea. It forces us to evaluate exactly how deep the hurt/offense/failure is (we usually tend to overestimate this), and it gives us a tool to allow ourselves to feel hurt and sorry for ourselves, but at the same time, allows us to move on with our life in a positive and productive way. Acknowledgement of the hurt, but not defeat - relinquishing the pity pot to its proper place. I thought that was interesting enough to share.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

I Want That!

There's a TV show on the Home and Garden Television channel called "I Want That!" One of their ads for the show (I'm paraphrasing here) announced that the products featured on that show were things that yesterday you didn't know existed but today you just have to own. That's not the exact wording, but you get the gist. It sounds like a situation where you aren't thinking about cake, don't care about cake particularly, but you see a photo of a cake on the front of a magazine and suddenly you want cake. If you have had cake before, this one promises to be more delicious than anything you've ever tasted. If you have never had cake before, well, then you deserve some cake, now that you see it and have awakened to what you have been missing. Oh, yes, the marketing teams have done their research.

I've watched the show a couple of times, and it is truly amazing the inventions they are creating these days. I can understand how the marketing executives came up with that catchy title. I can imagine viewers watching the program, saying, "Hey! That looks handy!" "Such a great idea!" "I could really use that!" and finally, of course, "I need that!" No matter that I have lived 51 years very nicely without "that," thank you very much. All of a sudden it is a priority. The "want" list gets smaller as we transfer items over to the "need" list.

Recently I was out with Ed running errands, and I suddenly realized I had left the cell phone at home. Horrors! I was actually going to be away from the house without the cell phone! I could not be contacted! No matter that we had an answering machine at home to take messages - I had a few seconds of panic anyway. Then Ed, the ever practical Ed, turned to me and said, "A few years ago you didn't even have a cell phone. You got along wonderfully without it. You could actually drive locally without having to be available to someone who wanted to talk to you." And then Ed with a gasp, eyes wide, said sarcastically, "And you actually survived!"

I called Mother last night and she said Matt had called her on his cell phone while he was riding in his car (just the passenger; not driving). In the ensuing conversation, she talked about her amazement that someone could call from his car. We talked about the people in her generation (she is 82 years old) and all the technological changes they have experienced in their lifetimes.

"I Want That" certainly understands this. According to the show's web site, they "...showcase innovations for the home that are so new they almost haven't happened yet." And with each new technological advancement, whatever you own has become obsolete. Haven't you heard? They are building bigger, better, more complicated, more intriguing, more powerful things than whatever you have now. Don't you want to be on the cutting edge of invention? Don't you want to be the envy of all your friends? Don't you want to be the first on the block to own one?

I started thinking about how many things our generation owns that we consider necessities - the very things that in previous generations were things that were luxuries - or things that had never even been imagined yet, even in their wildest dreams.

A friend of ours is trying to sell her house. It is a modest one, in downtown Ellsworth. It looks like a good price and is in a good neighborhood. She confessed to me why she thinks it hasn't sold. "It has only one bathroom," she stated sadly. One bathroom! I grew up in a house with 3 other people and we all shared one bathroom and managed fine. Now it's a necessity, even in modest homes, to have at least 1-1/2 bathrooms, preferably 2. This big house of ours has 2-1/2 baths. I imagine there are some families who won't even consider a house with less than 3 bathrooms.

I'm not trying to judge what is necessity and what is luxury for everyone. I wouldn't presume to. But it is helpful sometimes to stop and think just what is considered a necessity in our lives and why. Some inventions in my lifetime, like seat belts and child car seats, are truly for society's welfare. Others, though, seem to be just one more way for me to throw away money in that elusive search for contentment and fulfillment.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Watch out, Seiko

It appears that a lot of folks have the same reaction to the latest round of Seiko watch ads that I have had. Disbelief. It's one of those times you just have to shake your head, because there's nothing that can be said. Nonetheless, I will try to say it anyway.

For the uninitiated, Seiko's latest commercials state a number of "facts." These "facts" rotate depending on the commercial (in print and TV) but they state things like this:

It's not your car. It's not your music. It's not your favorite color. It's not your neighborhood. It's not your perfume. It's your watch that tells the most about who you are.

Now, during the Christmas season, I expect to be inundated with senseless, moronic ads that try to entice the consumer by playing on greed, envy, lust, power - you name it. You have to admit, though, this is a new low.

I've talked a lot about Identity in this blog, and I can guarantee you it isn't revealed by the watch you wear. I'm sure most people know this, but Seiko is apparently trying to convince us otherwise. Or maybe they're pushing the envelope of advertising nonsense for the publicity.

Martin Marty of The Christian Century writes, "The most pathetic in a field rich in pathos is the Seiko ad pronouncing, 'It's not your shoes. It's not your car. It's not your music. It's your watch that tells most about who you are.'" There seem to be many bloggers and others posting on the Internet who are lambasting this senseless ad.

Of course, my background is in the church, and the Bible verse that came immediately to my mind during this ad was, "They will know your love." But I guess that wouldn't sell jewelry.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Ah, the magic....

Not of Christmas ---- of Photoshop!

The family got together recently to take our annual family Christmas picture. This is a major feat, and the difficulty is compounded with every new individual in the photo. It's one more person who needs to have his/her eyes open, pleasant expression, hair in place, and all the other requirements of a decent family Christmas picture.

Now notice the picture to the left. Something is obviously awry.
I have my back to the camera, Ed is apparently creating mischief, Matt is either attacking or saving Sarah. The people on the couch are even worse! Is everyone trying to sabotage the photo I work so hard to create?

No, this is our "stupid" picture. It has been our tradition that after taking about 15-20 photos, for the final photo we are encouraged to assume "stupid" expressions and "stupid" positions for the "stupid" picture. It is the last photo of what is usually a lengthy and grueling photo shoot, and all involved are encouraged to let off some steam at having been made to sit for a long period of time with smiles on their faces.

Even in the "stupid" picture, you can see there is work to be done in the background. There are shadows behind the people standing up, a key rack on the wall and a framed picture that could be erased. Those (and other minor irregularities) were in the official photo, too. Not any more! Thanks to Matt, the geek king, I have learned how to use Photoshop and get rid of pesky things like pimples and flyaway hair (the flyaway part, not the hair, although I can do that, too). I can maneuver buttonholes, beards and bra straps. I can even add teeth! Hoo boy! I am invincible!

Seriously, though, my newly acquired skill did make me stop and think about the validity of this fact: We hear so often that the aging American woman cannot look at the models and actresses in magazines without thinking, "Why can't I look that good?" Well, heck, if I can do this minimal photo manipulation with Photoshop, I have to remember what the professionals can do with their editing software. The women you see in their photos don't even exist - at least not in that perfect form. I read once that those editors routinely enlarge the pupils of the models, creating a more "attractive" look. (And I thought inserting a tooth was the epitome of expertise!)

Just a reminder to all the aging women out there: Next time you see a gorgeous, perfect model in a magazine, say to yourself one word (and it helps if you do it with a moderate smirk) -

Sunday, December 04, 2005

So this is love?

Honestly, very little surprises me anymore. I was reading a magazine the other day and came upon a full-page ad. On the top of the page was this message:

What extraordinary love looks like.

For the first second of seeing the ad, that phrase was all I had noticed. Extraordinary love? What would you expect to see after that phrase? A photo of Mother Teresa ministering to the dying? A parent donating one of their children's organs? A little kid collecting thousands of stuffed animals for charity? Jimmy Carter building a Habitat for Humanity house? An old woman taking gentle care of a spouse with Alzheimer's? How about a newborn in its mother's arms? Maybe, because it's Christmas, a manger scene?

Well, if you guessed any of the above you guessed wrong. Under that phrase there was a huge color photograph of 3 Cartier rings dripping with diamonds.

Christmas seems to bring out the worst and the best of us all at the same time. We have enough problems at this time of year equating love with material things. Extraordinary love, indeed! Shame on you, Cartier!

Friday, December 02, 2005


What's the closest relationship we have in this life? The one that makes us vulnerable, scared, surprised, aggravated, disappointed, ecstatic, or sad?

Yes, we have such a close relationship with our parents. Definitely our siblings. Also, our kids. And certainly, our spouses/partners.

What happens when we feel the most awful emotion of betrayal? The closer the relationship, the worse it is. Our vulnerability has been breached. Our love has been tested. We are innocent, we tell you, innocent!

Indeed, sometimes we are, and don't deserve betrayal. Yet sometimes our actions have instigated it and deep down we realize that this is true.

But most of the relationships above are limited. We will undoubtedly live part of our lives without one or the other. There is one relationship, though, that we are stuck with. Permanently, at least as long as this fleeting life can be called permanent - kind of an oxymoron, I know. At any rate, I think in your 40s and 50s you have to come to terms with this relationship, step back, observe, and - yes - eventually feel betrayed. The relationship I am talking about is the one between us and our bodies.

Most of us are ambling along in life just great, feeling wonderful, young, carefree - until one day we start realizing that we are on the downhill slope. We are slowly deteriorating. It certainly does not happen overnight. But it happens. And I, for one, don't like it.

Hey, Body, I thought we had a fairly good relationship! We've been through a lot, but come through OK, haven't we? In one piece? Not the worse for wear? We're in this together, Body. We're all we've got, and our goal is to live long and healthy, right? So what's this about cropping up with a thyroid nodule, hmmm? What's this about a bone scan that shows that my spine is weakening year by year? What's this about fat and wrinkles and muscle cramps and fatigue and gravitational droop and poor eyesight and decreased hearing and gray hair? What's that all about?

Betrayal! I shouted. How could you do this to me, after all I've done for you?

Oh yes, I was furious. I had every right to be! Then I stepped back and thought a minute and tried to observe my body's point of view. (I guess I had an "out-of-body experience.") What have I done for my body to turn on me? OK, I realize some of this is just the natural cycle of aging. As in any relationship, both sides grow and change and these things happen. But I am not innocent. Oh, no, after the things I have done (and not done), I can't weep innocently. I know what I have contributed to the breakdown of this relationship. I knew exactly what had been going wrong all those years. The ice cream and Cokes. The on-and-off exercise. The job of sitting all day. The face creams I bought but rarely used. The sunscreen I forgot to put on. The sleep I missed. The stress I did not alleviate.

Maybe it is really I who have betrayed my body. And now it's payback time.

It's a shame that the closest relationship of all has to ensure such betrayal - on both sides. My part in the betrayal especially hurts because, as most of us, I have always been blessed with no diseases and good health. And I have squandered many years of it, taking it for granted.

May we all give ourselves the perfect gift this Christmas season. Peace with our body, and a commitment to be "faithful" to it for as long as we are "together."

Sorry about that, Body. You deserve better.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Giving thanks

Although it is officially Thanksgiving today, I won't have mine until Saturday, when the kids can come home. They and their families are with their respective in-laws. It doesn't really bother me to put Thanksgiving off, because I am so proficient at procrastination that it feels normal to me to be late with something. Besides, it gave me a chance to work a few hours for a little extra money, and gave me time to watch the Macy's parade without keeping an eye on the oven to make sure the pies don't burn.

That said, today is Thanksgiving Day, and I wanted to post a short note. I am thankful that this web site offers me the opportunity to have a blog, for one thing. It's free publishing! Like keeping a journal, it requires me to process my thoughts every once in awhile - to try to make sense out of life; to remind myself of where I'm going and how I'm getting there; to remember that my life, no matter how mundane or anxiety-ridden, is still full of humor and wonder.

And, of course, a blog would not be a true blog without its readers. Chris is totally amused by my blog. He thinks I am having an Internet conversation with...well, mostly my sister. Au contraire, Chris - I have an extensive reader base! (I'm laughing here, but hey, you never know who is reading when anyone in the world can access it!) I know some folks have stumbled onto here by sheer accident, and others are just curious to find out what the old lady said today. Some people read this just to see what Caroline is up to, I would imagine. Some of my readers are family members; some are people I have never had the privilege to meet.

Nonetheless, I am thankful for each person who reads any of this, from those who have glanced at a single post to the others who are following this blog on a regular basis. By reading, you are helping me make sense out of my life, and for that, I am grateful. You are giving me a chance to reminisce, and for that I am grateful. You are giving me an opening to brag about my kids and grandkids, and for that I am grateful.

It's very intriguing to have Internet "relationships." Those of you who frequent various chat rooms and boards understand what I am talking about. My favorite medical transcription site in particular has brought together a diverse group of ladies with only one thing in common - our line of work. Most of us have never met anyone else on the site in person. We live all over the country, and some beyond that, and there is the high probability that we will never meet one another. Yet when one has a birthday, we all cheer, and when one has to tend to a sick father, we all give support, and when one's beloved pet dies, we all mourn. A strange kind of community - strangers, yet friends. We've shared gripes and craft projects and pictures of our children and grandchildren. We've posted about the perils of getting older, the anxiety of finding a new job, the frustration of poor dictators.

So in a way, I'm also thankful for the Internet. It has brought me to you (whoever you may be!) and you to me, in some unfathomable relationship that I will never understand and probably am only beginning to appreciate. Thanks for accompanying me on the journey.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Seeking treasure

While I was staying at the Beckwith house to help with new baby Charlotte, Rachel and I decided to take the baby on an excursion into Bangor, leaving Caroline home with Dad. Chris is one of those interactive dads who use their creative juices to, as he said, "raise the bar" for other babysitters (moms included, unfortunately, says Rachel). Accordingly, he decided they would have a treasure hunt.

He gathered some blank index cards and painstakingly drew very detailed pictures of places in the house, with an arrow to "mark the spot" where the next clue could be found. He started Caroline off at the refrigerator, where the first index card was attached. She examined the picture. As this idea was new to her, Chris initially had to give her leading questions to help her figure out what the treasure hunt exactly was and how it operated, but she learned quickly, going from one clue to the next.

The final index card showed a drawing of her bed, with an arrow pointing to the pillow. She felt all around the pillow, and finally lifted the pillow up and threw it back. There it was - the treasure - a wooden letter "I."

What kind of treasure is that, you might ask? As you wonder about the choice of such a mundane object, you may also consider this: Not only was this wooden treasure "untreasure-like" in its characteristics, it was something she already owned. Caroline owns a wooden puzzle which spells out her name in individual colored letters. The "I" had been missing for quite awhile, and all attempts to locate it had been fruitless. And there it was - right under her pillow - as if by magic!

Chris had the foresight to videotape the whole treasure hunt so Rachel and I could share in Caroline's adventure. He told us he had found the wayward "I" by accident, and instead of just giving it to her outright, he had decided to have some fun in the process. And Caroline truly enjoyed the hunt and the discovery of her precious "treasure."

Some experiences in life are hard to squeeze meaning from, like one of those diaper wipes that loses its moisture after sticking out of the little box too long in the air (I guess you can tell what I've been doing all week). Other experiences just ache to be commented on, and this, obviously is one of those.

We are all searching for life's meaning, the treasure that makes the journey worthwhile, interpreting clues on what to do next and where to go with our resources. Sometimes we need to be reminded that the journey itself is the adventure. And in the end, when we find that the "treasure" is something we already had inside of us the whole time, we are not disappointed, but instead are flat-out amazed! (Is it just coincidence that identity starts with an I?) The only regret is that it takes some of us so long to discover it.

There - I just had to say it. Sermon over!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


I've had my share of surprises in my life. Some were painful (who knew you couldn't point an activated firestarter gel bottle at your face and squeeze???) and some were great but almost gave me a heart attack (my sister from Memphis flew up for my 50th birthday and just walked into the room unannounced). I was ecstatic when Ed gave me my first Celtic harp a few years ago- what a wonderful surprise! I had an unwelcome surprise this past Sunday when I glanced down at my license plate and realized it was due to have registration renewed in August.

Of course, our major surprise in the recent past was the discovery at her birth that our new grandbaby was a girl!

I think Holiday Inn ran a series of commercials once with the theme, "The best surprise is no surprise." Sometimes that's true. But in general, I really enjoy surprises. When you become an adult, it's easy to lose that exciting feeling that anything could happen at any moment. I guess when you're little, that feeling is always positive because you can't think of anything bad that could happen. As an adult, we know that bad things can and do happen, and if you are a believer in Murphy's Law, bad things will happen. So we tend to lose that sense of the next surprise waiting around the corner.

There are some surprises that leap out at me, and then there are others that make their way slowly to the surface, and all at once I realize, "Hey! Look at that!" For instance, I am always surprised when I read our son Matt's blog. His intellect is totally amazing! Now as I write this, I don't want to sound as if I thought he was less smart or that he couldn't have written about such complex ideas. We always knew he was smart. But since he has reached adulthood, I still marvel at the way his brain works and how much creativity he has. If you are interested in computer programming and web site development or just technological ideas, you should check out his blog.

Matt also had to have dental surgery this week. The problem should have been taken care of when he was a young teenager, but alas, no one suggested it and now the situation was immediately in need of treatment. Matt went into the surgery and through the surgery with an adult attitude of acceptance. All I could think about was Matt as a little boy, having to have a baby tooth pulled (a painful thing, since it had an extremely long root), and wanting to give half the tooth fairy money to his sister. Exactly when was it that he grew up?

One of the running jokes in our family is the definition of swine. It has always been a desire of mine to consider every occasion a teaching experience and to make sure our children are literate. I am not referring to the ability to read, of course, but to a possession of a general knowledge that I feel literate adults should have in our society. This particular joke started in a local restaurant when I was eating with the kids and their spouses. We were discussing the proverb, "Don't throw pearls before swine," and I took it upon myself to ask the them (the kids, not the swine) if they knew what swine were. Well, what the heck did I know?! They didn't grow up on a farm! How many times in their lives would they have had an opportunity to learn what "swine" meant? I was immediately reprimanded for my audacity in asking such a stupid question. Of course they knew what "swine" meant! They were college-educated adults, for goodness' sake! They still bring that up and are still amazed that I was surprised at their knowledge. What do I know? I still call them "kids," as you can see!

I had one of those sneak-up-on-you surprises this week as I stayed with our daughter and son-in-law to help out with our 2-1/2-year-old granddaughter Caroline and the new baby Charlotte. Our daughter, Rachel, has always been more on the stubborn side, with little flexibility and little tolerance for disappointments and changes in plans. She has many virtues, but I never would have put patience at the top of the list! Having said that, this week I have seen Rachel handling with utmost patience and calm her overturned household, undone chores, lack of sleep, C-section recovery, crying baby, whining toddler, and of course, me, her temporary live-in mother. I have seen things that would drive anyone else to a hair-pulling nervous breakdown, and Rachel just smiled and did what needed to be done. I raised a girl and it took me this long to really, I mean really, see the woman she has become.

What a blessing it is when we get to see our "kids" as adults - intelligent, wise, patient, skilled, taking on that which needs to be done with minimal complaining, exhibiting the serenity of acceptance on an adult level. We raised them both, and I like to think we had something to do with the adults they have become.

Yeah, I kind of like surprises!

Saturday, November 12, 2005


During my many trips to and from Winterport to see my new grandbaby Charlotte and her family, I like to listen to Christmas music. I started doing that this year late; it was October before I started my Christmas music marathon, and it usually is September when I bring out the CD collection. I can't apologize for my rush - I just happen to love Christmas music. I think more than any other kind of music, it evokes powerful memories in most of us.

As soon as I had listened to "I'll Be Home for Christmas," I got out of the car, came into the house, and turned on the TV just in time to hear an ad for Wal-Mart, one of a series of ads featuring their slogan for this year, "Home for the Holidays." I believe deciding exactly where home is for us can be most confusing these days. If I'm home for Christmas, does that mean I am here in our Victorian house in Maine? Am I still in Maine but maybe at Rachel's house? Matt's apartment? Or, one of the more powerful images, am I in Memphis, Tennesee, on Josephine Street, where I grew up and where my mother still lives? Could I be in Collierville, Tennesses, at my sister's house? What if I'm just somewhere in Tennessee - is that being home for Christmas? And I can't forget Arkansas; it would certainly feel like home if I had my aunt and uncle and cousins together for Christmas (and one of those would have to be gathered in from another state!).

This year, as in other years, our family is sharing our kids with other families for Thanksgiving and Christmas. After all, when your children marry and some have children of their own, all of a sudden your family is enlarged tremendously, and the idea of home becomes fairly complicated. I think it becomes complicated even if you never have children. Once any two people unite in a relationship, there are more definitions of home added to the family dictionary. Can home be more than one place? Can we relinquish the idea of home being just a house or apartment?

Oh, it's easy when you're young. When I was a student at Lambuth College, and someone had asked me if I were going home for Christmas, I would have said, "Yes, indeed!" and I could have told you exactly where that home was located. When I married Ed, all of a sudden we had three homes - his, mine, and ours! My sister got married - and we added another home. We moved from a house in Memphis to parsonages all over Tennessee - each our home for a time, and each surrounded by friends we have left behind. Heck, during one transfer we had a "layover" and considered a Holiday Inn as home for 2 weeks! (I know hurricane victims are considering hotels home in terms of months, not weeks.) Now both our children are married and we have more homes added to the list. I think sometimes if I were truly going to be home for Christmas I would have to have St. Nicholas's magic of being everywhere at once.

And, of course, I could sum this all up in the famous saying, "Home is where the heart is." The older I get, the more I realize that whenever I am with family, I am home. Whenever I am with friends who love me, I am home. Again, the journey to simplicity keeps coming back to relationships, not things.

The problem a lot of folks my age face is the fact that not only are our family members living in other houses, but in today's world they are often living in other states or even other countries. In a way, that has expanded our view of home, but it also has made the actual possibility of everyone getting together more remote. And relatives are getting older, and time moves on, and we sometimes joke at funerals that it's a "reunion." It's sad that a reunion has to wait for a time like that.

We can't entirely dismiss buildings as a valid way to awaken home memories, however. Our memories are interwoven with places and people and things, and each has the power to touch a memory circuit in our brains enough that if we close our eyes, we are there again. Ed had an experience like that years ago when he was preaching. The congregation was singing "Silent Night," and all of a sudden, Ed says, he closed his eyes and the whole scene disappeared and he was back in his childhood church basement in Missouri, a boy of about 8 or 9 years old, singing that exact song. He insists this was not a memory per se; he was actually transported for just a minute to that basement.

So ideas of home cover much more than things and people present. Part of my home is my own childhood church, long burned down. Part of my home is my dad, my grandfather, and my great aunt, Aunt Bessie, and others who have passed away.

I'm glad the word home is broad enough to take all these meanings and give life to them. I'm glad the vivid memories I have of happy times and loved ones can still live in my heart. Sometimes home is indeed a state of mind. Of course, there's nothing like having my mom and sister present with me during the holidays. But I feel their love "across the miles," as the cards say, and I am thankful that love is strong enough to reach beyond distance, even beyond time itself...

"Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love light gleams.
I'll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams."

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Our Miracle

I remember when Ed preached on miracles. I also remember having a discussion on Bishop Spong's site about them, too. The gist of both discussions was that society too narrowly defines "miracle" as an event so totally out of the "ordinary" that divine intervention (which normally apparently is "out there somewhere" and keeps hands out of ordinary life) is the only way to explain it. Of course, that's not the case. Science has shown us the miracles in a leaf showing its true colors in the fall, a solid table consisting of active and moving subatomic particles, the complexity of the solar system and beyond, and the relatively recent relevations of mapping DNA.

Ed also preached that we think of birth as a miracle, but in reality, the very conception of a child is a miracle, and you would have to come to this conclusion if you study the mechanism of conception and all the obstacles built in to keep it from happening. It's a wonder babies get born at all!

But born they are, and last night we welcomed Charlotte Elise into the world, and now our world has changed again and will never be the same. During the short time we passed her around from person to person last night in the hospital room, we all agreed she seemed to have a calmer temperament than Caroline did at that age. Already she is showing her individuality.

Of course, all that may change, but right now it reminds us that she is indeed her unique self. I started to type "her little unique self," but with her weight at 10-1/2 pounds, I might be excused for omitting that word! General comments, though, were that she still seems little to us, despite her weight.

I think of Charlotte being our second grandchild, and think of Chris's mother, Alice, for whom Charlotte is a wonderful addition to several grandchildren, and I marvel at the miracle that each new baby is just like the first. The happy tears flow, the cycle of life continues.
I am blessed to be a part of it all.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Who will it be?

It's 5 a.m. and I have a vacation day from work. So why am I blogging instead of sleeping? Because my new grandbaby will be born today, and I am too excited to sleep.

Since I don't know Baby's gender yet, I will have to refer my new grandchild as "It" for the purpose of this post. Sorry, Baby, I don't mean to de-personify you. Our language just isn't sufficient for gender-neutral pronouns in this situation! Baby doesn't realize it yet, but today but in a few short hours, it will be leaving its secure world of the womb and be transported into a new world - strange, exciting, harsh, soothing, noisy - and it knows not what to expect. The only thing Baby will know is that all of a sudden it has to cry for its food, cry from discomfort, and be totally dependent on others for care.

This Baby will be lucky. It is being born into a close, loving family. It will be loved and cared for and encouraged. It will be taught numbers, letters, manners, respect, tolerance - and probably a little French along the way. It will be taught that "Daddy says sneaker; Mama says tennis shoe." It will be able easily to recognize Martin Luther King, Yoda, and Abraham Lincoln. These facts we know because this Baby's family has been successful in teaching these things to Caroline.

The mystery (and fun!) is in what we don't know. Because this Baby will certainly not be a carbon-copy of dear Caroline. Oh, no. Whether it is male or female, this Baby will have its own identity, its own interests and hobbies, its own little personality, and its own way of doing things.

I know from our children Matt and Rachel that no two kids are alike, and I am happy that each one of our kids has brought his and her unique identity to enrich our lives - as they have done so completely.

So what's next? Nobody knows! And that's the beauty of it! Welcome to the world, little Baby. Always remember that we love you for yourself, as we love Caroline for herself. The world will change for the better because of your existence, and we can hardly wait to see the kind of child you turn out to be. But the greatest thing about today is that we all will be relieved that you will finally have a NAME! It's been a long wait, and we are overjoyed! Love, Grammy

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Working out from the middle

I spent the afternoon basting Rachel's quilt yesterday. I had moved the dining room table and chairs and spread the quilt out on the floor. Then I got down on my hands and knees with my needle, thread, and scissors, and started the arduous task of basting.

A quilt is like a sandwich; in fact, that's what they call it, a quilt sandwich. First I have to lay the backing fabric on the floor and smooth out the wrinkles. On top of that, I spread the batting, trying to keep the backing fabric smooth while smoothing out the batting. Finally, I put the quilt top on all of it and pinned everything together.

Pins are great (and oh so sharp!), but they serve as a temporary fixative. To keep the layers together long enough to get the quilt in a hoop, I must baste it with thread. Every quilter has her own basting preference (including other options besides thread) but I usually thread baste a vertical line down the middle, a horizontal line through the middle, a big "X" from corner to corner, then a grid few inches apart vertically and horizontally. (As a side note, my age came into play again, as I am having more trouble getting the thread into that tiny needle eye.) The key to basting and hand quilting a quilt is starting in the very center and working outward. It's awkward that way, especially on hands and knees all hunched over on the floor, but you have to start in the middle so you can smooth to the outside as you go. If you started from the outside edge, you'd have a big wad by the time you got to the middle.

Since I was sprawled across the floor and crawling here and there for most of the afternoon (and my muscle soreness proves it), I had plenty of time to think. Lately I have been doing some list-making (at which I excel but lack on the carrying-through part) about goals and priorities. I think that having your priorities in place is like basting from the middle. Once you start with good, solid, clear priorities, it's much easier to negotiate the rest of your life. In others words, you get a much better result starting in the middle and working out than starting out working in.

I am reading a great article called "The Power of Clarity" I found on the Internet. After I finish it and think about it, I'll post some reflection. In the meantime, I'll give my pin-stuck fingers a few days to heal, be there when my new grandbaby is born on Monday, and talk about goals and priorities later. After all, I think a new grandbaby just jumped to the top of my personal priority list!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Playing with the angels

I had something extraordinary happen to me at work today. I spent the day doing my job, but my mind was going over superficial aggravations about how the office was being run and who's getting away with what, etc., when I opened up an e-mail from someone who was sending me a sincere apology for her part in a working relationship/friendship rift that had been simmering since June. It was so totally unexpected that I just stopped typing and sat there for a few minutes.

One phrase in the e-mail jumped out at me. "Life is too short." I immediately thought about my friend, Bernie. Today would have been her 52nd birthday. She died at the age of 49 of hepatitis C that she received from a transfusion 20 years earlier during a C-section. She often joked about the fact that she was a longtime non-drinking Baptist and was ironically dying of liver disease.

Her real name was Kathleen Capon White, wife of Francis White, a nurse anesthetist in Memphis. I called her Bernie in high school, because in French class we had to adopt French names and she chose Bernadette. We met in 4th grade, grew up in school together, became Candy Stripers together. I was her matron of honor and she had served at our wedding a few years earlier. Her postpolio syndrome made it impossible for her play the piano, so she took up the dulcimer instead. She sang and played beautifully!

The last time I saw Bernie was at Rachel's wedding. Bernie was in the last stages of her hepatitis, but she insisted on flying up here for the wedding anyway. I didn't know at the time that I would never see her again on this earth. If she had lived, I know she would have been a faithful reader of my blog and I know also she would have had a creative blog of her own. She had much to share the world.

This is the way the world turns upside down. Before Bernie received her hepatitis diagnosis, I could have made an extensive list of people in our lives that I was sure would die before Bernie. Life does not follow logic, however. Now I feel her today over my shoulder, repeating, "Life is too short...for petty annoyances and grievances and complaints. Appreciate what you have."

I suppose I have a form of survivor's guilt. Bernie died before 50; I am 51 now. Bernie never saw her 3 children get married; I have seen both mine on their wedding days. Bernie never lived to enjoy a grandchild; I have my second one coming into the world on Monday. In a way, though, I feel as if she is living through me, and not only through me, but through Francis and her children and her music and her gorgeous cross-stitch pictures, and she is living through all those who have benefited from her life and love.

Happy birthday, Bernie! I miss you so much!

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

"Thar's Gold in Them Thar Hills!"

On a recent trip to Bangor, I saw cars slow down in front of me and I groaned. I had forgotten about the never-ending construction, and after our heavy rains, I just knew the section of unpaved road would be bad. Following the lead of the other cars in front of me, I slowed down and together we winded our lethargic way across the uneven dirt.

I was on my way to meet Rachel and Caroline for toddlers' music class, and I didn't want to be late. I pride myself on my ability to be punctual (especially when Ed is not dragging his slow self with me) and I was mentally calculating how much later this road repair would make me. I was sure that every other driver was thinking the same thing. At that point, we all had something in common - frustrated impatience.

Finally the highway delivered us out of the construction zone, and all the drivers sped up to recover lost time. I pressed the accelerator, then had to release my foot immediately, because there before me was the most gorgeous display of fall foliage covering the mountains and nearby hills; it was splendor in gold! It took my breath away, and I slowed down. We've had a less-than-perfect autumn here in Maine, because the key ingredients to assure a colorful foliage season were lacking, and what the rain didn't destroy, the wind did. The color of the leaves that remained on the trees was on average not very brilliant. But the view on this stretch of highway was miraculously preserved.

I considered how my situation had reflected the busyness of our lives. We find ourselves in a boring waiting game and once the wait is over, we speed through the remaining journey in a mad rush to make up time - in the process, missing the gold. I thought it was so ironic that we drivers were required to crawl through the boring scenery, and just as the view turned spectacular, we were trying to drive so fast that most of us totally missed it. For me, it was when autumn 2005 redeemed itself - and I almost didn't notice.

Rachel is scheduled for her c-section next Monday. She told me that after Caroline was born, she was always looking ahead to the "firsts" - the first time she would roll over, the first time she would crawl, the first time she would walk. She said she really had looked forward to the time when Caroline could talk, and especially when she could say the word Mama. It was only when she began her second pregnancy, knowing it would be her last, that Rachel vowed to appreciate and enjoy each stage of the new baby's life, and not try to hurry through to the next milestone.

Ed says I have the most accidents when I go too fast. I also tend to miss some darn good scenery.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

When I was a kid...

I'm still young enough at 51 to appreciate "old people" jokes. Ed, 8 years older than I am, says they are too true to be funny. For instance, a cursory search of the Internet brought up these gems:

You know you're old when...

  • Your friend compliments you on your new alligator shoes and you're barefoot.
  • You don't care where your spouse goes, just as long as you don't have to go along.
  • "Getting a little action" means, "I don't need to take any fiber today."
  • You are cautioned to slow down by the doctor instead of the police.
  • You realize that caution is the only thing you care to exercise.
  • Your sweetie says, "Let's go upstairs and make love," and you answer, "Honey, I can't do both!"
  • The gleam in your eye is the sun shining on your bifocals.
  • You look forward to a dull evening.
  • Your house is too big. Your medicine box not big enough.
  • When you say something to your kids that your mother used to say to you (and you always hated it).
  • When you step off a curb and look down one more time to make sure the street is still there.
  • It takes twice as long to look half as good.
Now for me, I know I'm old when I find myself saying,"When I was a kid...." I grew up in Memphis, so I can't say I had to walk home from school in waist-deep snow, but I can say that I walked home from school, and it wasn't a short walk, either! I can say I was allowed to chew gum rarely, and even that meant the stick of Juicy Fruit was torn in half to share with my sister. I only had Cokes (or sodas, or soft drinks, or whatever you call them in your region) on the weekend. And - I have to reminisce here as the Christmas buying season is approaching - I had very simple toys.

Back when I was young, Chatty Cathy was the most technologically advanced doll one could have. You pulled the string and - magic - she talked! And she didn't even require batteries! Except for Chatty Cathy and Chatty Baby (my sister's doll), our other dolls and toys were pretty quiet.

One of our favorite games was jacks with a red ball made of real rubber that could bounce to the ceiling. It was our mother's jacks ball when she was a girl, and she guarded it as the precious entity it was. It was a grand occasion indeed when she gave us permission to play with it.

We played board games like checkers and Monopoly and Clue. We played gin rummy and slap jack. We played Password.

When we tired of our games and toys, we formed a club - The Tiffin Spy Agency (TSA), whose members were just the two of us. We had meetings and dues and a theme song and everything. We made up our own play - I have to laugh now, because our characters were two old people! We also created our own family Thanksgiving service, complete with sermon, hymns, and handmade bulletins.

Now I'm getting the Christmas catalogs in the mail, I am perusing them for ideas for Caroline, and Rachel tells me, "I want to steer away from things that make noise." I thought, well, that shouldn't be too hard. So I went through the catalogs and store ads and nixed everything with the warning "Batteries required." The remaining list was quite short. My head is full of memories of toys I had growing up, then toys my children had growing up, and now it's a whole new world. I believe when Matt (born in 1983) was young, Teddy Ruxpin was just hitting the market - the bear that held a cassette tape who told stories and his lips moved. Now it's amazing the things toys can do. Even books have buttons to push where you don't even have to read them - they read aloud themselves - complete with sound effects!

I look at the changing world with awe. And as much as Rachel was determined to stay away from batteries, she finally had to give in, I think. She just bought Caroline a play kitchen that makes bacon sizzling noises and "speaks" words in English, French, and Spanish.

Ed was determined to find a "simple" toy for Caroline and had to look through the Amish catalog. He found a spinning top. I think he ought to get it. Caroline would be the envy of her toddler group with such a unique possession; I think it would fascinate her little friends. And then Caroline will be heroine of the hour when the neighborhood homes run out of batteries and Caroline has the only toy on the block that they could play with!

(This post has been edited because my detail-oriented sister sent me a Hedda doll picture and insisted I post it (see her comment below). I thought the jacks ball was red; it must be the fact everyone tells me that I look at my childhood with rose-colored glasses!)

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Aging Part 2: The numbers game

I have a followup appointment in February for a recheck on my cholesterol, which is, of course, currently too high. My doctor is a dear and very comprehensive, but I'm afraid right now my health care concern (besides the mysterious thyroid nodule) is essentially reduced to two numbers - total cholesterol 259 and LDL 179. Until February at least, that's where the focus will be.

I am intrigued by the commercials for cholesterol-lowering medications where the participants have their cholesterol numbers taped to their chests, especially the one where the man tries outrun his number but it catches up with him and attaches itself securely to his shirt.

In my profession of medical transcription, it certainly can be a numbers game. When dictators get going with lab tests and such, numbers and discussion of numbers can easily take up half a patient's report. In my case, it's the cholesterol and the size of the thyroid nodule. In Ed's case, it's blood sugar. The pronouncement of his hemoglobin A1c (the test that gives the doctor an idea of what his blood sugar has been running for the last 3 months) is the highlight of his office visit. Ed knows that a sense of jubilation or utter failure will descend on him when he leaves that office, according to the number. He can't hide from the number. It squeals on him.

Add to our specific problem numbers other important numbers - the numbers of temperature, blood pressure, pulse, respirations, and - of course, I wouldn't forget this one - the almighty weight, or the new variation thereof, BMI.

I am not suggesting that to our physicians we are only a conglomeration of numbers; on the contrary, the numbers are the tools they need to make diagnoses and plan care.

I am suggesting, however, that how we feel about our own numbers, specifically our ages, may have some bearing on how we make our own diagnoses and plan our own care. And here, my acquaintance Rod's favorite word comes in - judgment. Boy, it's not nice to make judgments about other people, but you can really get into trouble when making them for yourself!

On an MT site I frequent, there is a recent discussion of age and what it means to get older. It runs the gamut, of course, for everything is relative. I write about what life is like at 51, and another lady is scared of turning 40, and yet another lady is already disgusted with photos of herself at 36. (Message to Rod: As pretty as the sequoia trees are, and as peaceful as you are with the aging concept - those are trees and you are a male and it is somewhat different for women in our culture. This is not to say that is a good or bad thing, but it is different.)

However, numbers do not create our identities. Neither do a lot of other things.

I think the problem so many women have with empty nest syndrome is that their whole identities have been based on their role as "full-time mothers." All of a sudden, they have to find out their true identity not based on a role. We read about problems with women identifying only with their profession - then they lose that or retire and have to rethink who they are. She might be a wife and then the word "widow" suddenly defines her to the world. Even Hollywood actresses have a hard time with the transition from "cover girl" to "character actress."

Have you ever heard someone discuss aging and say, "At age ___ I came into my own"? I always thought that expression was strange. Came into my own? My own what? The more I think about it, the more it sounds like identity to me. She came into her own identity - she realized who she really was - outside of the numbers, the roles she played in life, the labels society had given her, the fears that had ruled her. She came into her own wisdom, her own sense of power and accomplishment, her acceptance of the past and contentment regarding the future. She came into the knowledge that she can flow with changes and transitions and come out with her true self intact.

"I'm coming into my own." I like that. Now to work on that cholesterol...

Monday, October 24, 2005

Getting old

OK, so 51 is not technically old. Neither is 35, but our son-in-law made a big point at his birthday party last night that he is now half of 70.

Every time we celebrate a birthday in the family, even if it's not mine, I'm still reminded of the passage of time. We have the "kids" (now adults) and their spouses over, with 2-year-old Caroline, and everybody has a great time. Then after they leave, Ed spends the next day in a pensive mood, reminiscing on how he misses the kids being young, where did the time go, etc.

I'm especially reminded of getting older when I see myself in a photograph. Normally I am the photographer in the family, which gives me freedom to avoid being in the picture. Then I remember how my dad was hardly ever in a picture because he was always the photographer, so I make an effort to have someone take a picture of me once in awhile. And, of course, to upload a picture to this site, as well as to MT sites I frequent, means I have to get a decent head shot. It takes me - I am not exaggerating - about 50 takes before I find a picture of myself I can live with. It got so bad that Ed, who used to do the honors at my request, refuses now to take my head shot, because after he took 4 or 5, I would find fault with them and ask him to take more. So I have to do it myself, holding the camera at what I estimate is the correct angle, and snap away. Over and over. Fortunately, I have a digital camera. I would hate to have taken a whole roll of film to find out an hour later when I picked up the prints at the store that I hated every photo. Now I just hate every photo digitally - it's much cheaper.

Why do I hate every photo? Because I'm old and it shocks me. When did that happen? Unlike some folks, it didn't bother me when I turned 40 or 50. It didn't bother me when the kids got married. It didn't bother me when I became a grandmother. But it bothers me when I see myself in a photograph. Every imperfection is there in full blazing color. Thank goodness for the "delete" key. Delete, delete, delete. Maybe? if I squint a little?....nah. Delete.

Reader's Digest, in their section Life in These United States, had an entry which hit home for me this week:

Fortunately, my husband found a fix for his midlife crisis: a new job. Unfortunately, it was in another state, which meant selling a house where we'd had eight happy years. Getting ready for bed one evening before the move, I said sadly, "I pictured us growing old together here." As he kissed me goodnight, he replied, "We did."

Friday, October 21, 2005


In the latest issue of More magazine, there is article called "How Much Greener Is That Grass?" The premise of the article is to give the reader an overview of four women in their forties who live in four different areas - California, Kansas, Connecticut, and the Virgin Islands - and give details of how they live. They state their incomes, their mortgage payments, their property taxes, the reasons they love where they live, the hidden expenses, their splurges, and then a financial expert gives advice to each woman.

It is always interesting to see what a certain income level can buy in other areas, but I really had to take exception with the woman from the Virgin Islands, Beverly Banks Randall and her husband, Alex. She is an MD, a neonatologist, and her husband is a radio newsman and professor. They make $200,000 a year. Here is an excerpt from their story:

What that buys: An airy house and three rental cottages overlooking the ocean, along with a dock and a pool. Alex paid $250,000 for the property in 1995, and it's now worth $800,000.
Last year, they collected $50,000 from the rentals and put most of it toward capital improvements. They keep a new minivan and two cars on St. Thomas; transportation on Water Island [where they live] is of three golf carts and a secondhand boat. Food runs...$500 a week, since everything but fresh fruit has to be imported...Two children attend private school totaling $26,000 per year. The sitter gets $650 a week, plus an apartment. "We live well, but not extravantly," Banks says. "We bounce from paycheck to paycheck, sometimes dipping into savings."

Splurges: "We had to rebuild half of our house this year," she says, "so we went all out for a $60,000 kitchen." Vacations are a must..."If you live in a beach paradise, you travel to stateside cities with malls and museums," Banks says. The family goes north every Thanksgiving, paying $500 per person for plane tickets alone. And guess who recently spent $7,000 on a set of trains for the garden?

Hidden expenses: Home maintenance is a killer - the family spends $300 every month just for the pool chemicals..."

Why she loves where she lives: Sky, sun, and sea - Banks wouldn't dream of trading her lifestyle. But she admits it's not for everyone....Banks is usually home by 2:30 p.m. and although she's on call 24/7, emergencies occur only about once a week.

OK. I'm sitting here in a Victorian house in Ellsworth, Maine, wishing we had been able to sell this big house and move to our smaller one, and I ask you this: Am I the only one who thinks that they live an extravagant lifestyle? Am I not "getting" it? Well, the final moment of confusion hit me when she closes with this quote:

"You have to want a simple life," she says, "and I've discovered that it really suits me."

She is saying she lives a simple life? A $60,000 kitchen and $7,000 train in the garden and $300 a month for pool chemicals? Ergo, my previous blog. We all have to define simplicity for ourselves. There certainly seem to be a lot of strange definitions going around! It's not just income, it's not just money and expenses, it's not just what your house is like or what you eat or wear or how you spend your time - yet, it encompasses all of this. Reading stories like this make me want to do a survey somewhere, asking people what they think a simple lifestyle entails. The main thing I have learned from this article is this: Who am I to say that Beverly's life is not simple? Isn't that for her to decide? I need only to be looking at my life, with definition of simplicity for me and making changes accordingly. I think every time I find myself passing judgment on others, it is only a sign that I need to do some more thinking about my own life.
I consider myself reminded.

Friday, October 14, 2005


When the subject of conversation is simplicity, the views will always be varied. People have their own ideas on what simplicity means in general, and what it would mean for their lives specifically. Many of these discussions end on the idea that simplicity is easy. It's life without the "bells and whistles." Life in the slow lane. Well, that can be debated.

Tasha Tudor is an individual who fascinates me in some ways. She is a well-known illustrator and painter, over 90 years old, who lives in a cottage in Vermont. Her lifestyle reeks of simplicity. She eschews many modern conveniences. She lives alone with a few pets. Her life is simple...or is it? Here is how her web site describes her life:

Her home, though only 30 years old, feels as though it was built in the 1830's, her favorite time period. Seth Tudor, one of Tasha's four children, built her home using hand tools when Tasha moved to Vermont in the 1970's. Tasha Tudor lives among period antiques, using them in her daily life. She is quite adept at 'Heirloom Crafts', though she detests the term, including candle dipping, weaving, soap making, doll making and knitting. She lived without running water until her youngest child was five years old.
From a young age Tasha Tudor has been interested in the home arts. She excels in cooking, canning, cheese-making, ice cream making and many other home skills. As anyone who has eaten at Tasha Tudor's would know, her cooking skills are unsurpassed. She collects eggs from her chickens in the evenings, cooks only with fresh goats milk, and uses only fresh or dried herbs from her garden. Tasha Tudor is renowned for her Afternoon Tea parties. Once summer arrives, Tasha Tudor leaves her art table to spend the season tending her large, beautiful garden which surrounds her home.

Milks her own goats? Cans? Makes cheese? Makes candles, soap, ice cream? This is the simple life? Sounds like hard work to me!

Which is more indicative of the simple life - loading a washing machine and turning it on, or going to a stream and beating clothes against a rock? Loading a dryer and pushing a button, or carrying loads of wet laundry outside and hanging it on the line, then taking it down later?

I don't think a simple life is necessarily easy. In fact, it can be more difficult to attain than a stressful life. So even though "easy" may be a synonym for "simple," I don't buy it.

So when people say they are striving for a life of simplicity, what do they mean? I can't even see where the definition of "less stressful" and "less harried" applies in a general way. I can't imagine a more stressful life than your intake of food being dependent on having healthy chickens (who haven't been killed by predators) laying eggs on a regular basis, which you have to collect on a regular basis. My husband Ed knows the stress of getting wood ready for the fire, as he does the sawing and splitting by hand. Imagine having to have the fire not only to warm the house but to cook the food!

I was thinking about all this now because my sister Joy has spent the week in Mississippi, helping to clean up and demolish houses that Hurricane Katrina destroyed. I haven't spoken to her yet, but through our mother I hear that she has performed some pretty gross and unappealing chores down there. She had been planning to spend her vacation week in the comfort of her home, and instead she felt led to travel to another state and sleep in a tent. I don't think she would consider her week of the "simple life" one of relaxation!

So what is a life of simplicity? I have concluded that it is a life with integrity. A genuine life. A life where you realize that every act you do - whether buying a new outfit or choosing a new car, whether recycling or disposing, whether acquiring or giving away, the use of your time, the use of your gifts, the use of your money, the stand you take on issues of poverty and injustice - affects other people. It's a life that feels right. It is a life of wisdom. A life where you make choices over and over that are based on your own idea of what a life with integrity and simplicity means for you, knowing that what you do will impact the world.

Maybe I'm not one for making my own soap. I can recycle, though. I can buy a car that uses less gasoline. I can give to those less fortunate. I can educate myself and others about quality of life and what it entails.

And, as I have said before, it's a journey without end. Maybe we should drop the word "simplicity" altogether in favor of "integrity." Hurray for Joy...she has complicated her life this week to help others!

Friday, October 07, 2005

Time draws near

I'm thinking about Christmas. I know it's early, but it is ingrained in crafters/quilters and other creative type people to think about gift-giving way before the gift is needed. This is due to the simple fact that for those of us who would like to make our gifts, we really need a few months in advance...or in my case, a few years, since I'm still working on Rachel's wedding quilt. In my ideal world, I would make every gift that I gave! If I didn't have a full-time job, I might make headway towards that goal, but as it is, my procrastinating self is setting records for project incompletion times.

My sister ordered me a great T-shirt for my birthday. It says, "Live simply so that others may simply live." She bought it on, and shortly after I received it, I found some time to visit the web site.

I mentioned before that this will be the first Christmas since our attempt to start simplifying our lives. This will truly be the test. I considered the idea of not exchanging gifts at all, and instead giving to charity. But that is not what I want entirely either. Not to denigrate charity donations, but I have people in my life whom I love dearly and I want to give them something meaningful to celebrate Christmas. (Right now, I know one or both of our kids is thinking, "Money is always meaningful!" and at this stage in their lives, I totally understand!) Alas, we are into October and, since I am still working on the quilt for Rachel and Chris (its completion date was supposed to be June 2002), I don't really have enough time to make gifts for all my relatives (unless I get an early start for 2008). Nevertheless, I ventured forth on the simple living web site to read about ways to make Christmas gift-giving more meaningful. Here is what they say:

Consider how our consumer-oriented values have shaped our gift-giving practices:

  • Conformity is prized over individuality. Despite society's rhetoric about individuality, the "if-you-don't-have-one-you-are-inadequate" message of mass culture relentlessly bombards the senses from the air waves and print media. Consumer society's emphasis is to create needs rather than to create products to meet needs we already have. This results in conformity in how needs are perceived and the ways we meet those needs. The more far-reaching result of our conformity, however, may be an absence of dissenting voices in today's mass culture.
  • Whatever is bought and sold is better than whatever isn't. A broad assumption in the consumer society is that the only way to be happy is to accumulate things. Friendship, contentment, and security are significant only as they involve consumption. The way to express love and affection for another is by buying some "thing." By implication, gifts that are not "bought things" - including things made with one's own hands - are not worth much. The restrictive nature of this assumption rules out a whole host of wonderful ways to give, including the giving of time and skill. Not only does preoccupation with "buying to give" overlook other ways of giving, it also seems to make gift-giving less personal.
  • More and bigger are better. Less and small are chintzy. In a society which produces consumer goods far beyond the needs of its members, consumption without restraint becomes an ideal. This society's extraordinary levels of consumption have resulted in unparalleled amounts of waste, thus earning the title, "the throw-away society." Unrealistic ideas that Earth has unlimited natural resources, cheap energy, and adequate means of waste disposal have undergirded our consumption and waste. Yet all three of these assumptions are known to be false. The issues raised by this knowledge are more than ecological. Recognition of our planet's limited resources forces us to address the question of a just distribution of goods and resources. New consumer values, ideals, and practices are urgently needed so that all people can share in what the world has to offer.

I thought about why I want ideally to make every gift I give. Here are some reasons from:
  • You get involved in the gifts you give, or the things you live with. When you purchase, you are separated from the item; making items yourself yields a unique connection. As such, making things yourself is an antidote to the consumerism that seems to be plaguing our society.
  • You can ensure that the item will be of heirloom quality. When you make something yourself you are in control of the entire production process. When you purchase an item you are putting your trust in a brand name that usually represents a distant manufacturing facility. Of course, there are high-quality manufactured products but these are often the minority and usually very expensive.

  • Gifts that you make for others almost always have more meaning than those that you merely purchase. It is often said that the spirit of gift giving is not in the object itself but rather in the associated thoughtfulness. What gift is more thoughtful than one that is custom-made by you for the intended recipient? Such gifts indicate that you devoted some time and thought on a project to express an emotion or idea - therein lies true meaning.

  • The process of making something yourself is intrinsically enjoyable. Furthermore this joy is often extended beyond the initial phase. Many make-it-yourselfers enjoy their projects forever because they feel a sort of connection to them.

  • You can make truly unique things that are not available for purchase.
So there you have it - all the considerations swirling around gift-giving. And if you are ever shocked to receive a handmade gift from me - well, be honored! I probably started it in 1997!

Monday, October 03, 2005

They're baaaack!

My friends are back. They have been languishing in a storage facility with no one to love them. They are, of course, my books. At least, the books that we kept after we gave so many away. Our house was feeling strange without a ton of books.

Not only are the books back from storage, but everything else is too. When we rented a storage unit last spring, we assumed we would sell the house this summer and already be moved into our new house by winter, so we stored all our "clutter" and excess furniture, as well as winter clothes and Christmas decorations. Now that we've taken the house off the market until next spring, we decided we didn't need to be paying that $109 a month storage fee, when we need that $109 to help pay for heating oil this winter. So back everything came. Matt and Sarah were so sweet to help us do the hard work (after all, the boxes and furniture had to be carried up a flight, to a landing, up another flight, to the landing, up another flight, to the landing, then up the final flight, then the length of the house!). Our son-in-law Chris offered his help for the second day, but they had already finished up earlier than expected. Our daughter, Rachel, passed up the opportunity to help. What kind of excuse is being in the last few weeks of pregnancy, anyway?! She's so stuck out in front that all we would have done would have been to put a backpack on her and fill it up. It would even balance her better. Oh, well.

Even though we are inundated with boxes and furniture again, we are happy that our "stuff" is back in the house. We can access it, read it, wear it, decorate with it, or just plain admire it.

Even though we were disappointed the house didn't sell this past summer, we are happy it's off the market for the winter. I was reading a book about the sacredness of the home space, and I stopped to think about that. One of the reasons the constant showings were unnerving for us was that we have always considered home our sacred space, and the endless barrage of strangers traipsing in, through, around our sacred space just disoriented us in some way. It's different when we've had invited guests and led them on a tour through the house. That was fine. But total strangers usurping our home while they made their inevitable judgments on our decorating taste or lack thereof - that bothered us.

We know we will have to go through that again in the spring, when the house will be officially on the market once more. But for now, we are hunkering down for winter, satisfied that our clothes are not mildewing in a concrete storage unit somewhere, and inordinately pleased that that book we need to reference is just within reach.

It will be pleasant to have a few months of reprieve before we jump on the merry-go-round again in the spring.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

A better way

At work, I have always been always on the lookout for a better, more productive way to do any of my daily tasks. The whole time I am transcribing, I am thinking, "Could this be faster? Could I make a macro for this? Could I combine some steps?"

I forget sometimes to keep that same inquisitive mentality when I'm at home. Lately I've been having problems with the TV schedule. We don't have digital TV, so to see what's on now and coming on later, we have to sit through a slow crawl of program lists on cable, and I usually time it just right so if I want to find out what's on channel 8, the list is on channel 9 and will crank on at a snail's pace through 3-digit channels before it starts over.

I get a Sunday newspaper every weekend for the little TV schedule booklet, but the Bangor Daily News stopped printing it, probably because everyone was passing up the daily paper and only buying the weekend paper like me. I read that the newspaper had a web site where I could see and print a schedule, but it apparently doesn't work with my browser or has technical issues with my computer.

I considered buying the TV Guide magazine every week, but I find it hard to navigate. Besides, I have to plow through tons of channels I don't even watch just to see what's on the channels I do watch.

At any rate, I finally had the common sense to mention my dilemma to Matt, and he told me about, a site where not only can you get a TV schedule for your area, but you can customize it and omit all those stupid channels you never watch anyway. Wow - I knew there had to be a better way! That truly simplifies my life.

It's one thing to waste valuable time (isn't all time valuable?) sitting in front of the TV watching a mediocre program. It's more of a waste to sit there watching program titles scroll one at a time.

Sometimes when you are trying to simplify your life, all you have to do is ask for help. And hopefully, you will have access to someone brilliant like Matt when you do!

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

One year older

Yesterday was my birthday, and I had a fantastic time! I didn't want a lot of material, tangible presents. Instead I received what I wanted most - time with my family - wrapped up in laughter, good food, a few lame jokes, lots of picture-taking, and playing hide-and-seek with little Caroline.

Every year the kids want to buy me something special for my birthday, and every year I say, "All I want is time with the family." They never believe me.

If there is one thing I have learned from my journey to simplicity, it is the necessity of discovering one's priorities and everything else will land in its proper place. And truly, priorities consist of relationships - family and others that we love. I never know what is going to happen when we get together. On second thought, I do know.

I had already received a card from my mom, and an internet card from my friend Sally in California. When I checked into my MT web site, I saw they had started a thread to wish me a happy birthday. My sister had called with a clever poem about how I'm older than she is and it will be that way forever, or something along those lines, but at my age, I can't remember so well. I had phoned my mom, too, earlier in the afternoon. So already, my day was upbeat. After work, I was joyously anticipating the arrival of the kids. OK, so technically they are adults. They'll always be kids to me.

I started the evening out with a recitation of all the jokes in Reader's Digest. I laughed hilariously at them and Ed just rolled his eyes. I made him sit there and listen, because it was my birthday. Then our daughter-in-law Sarah and son Matt came in and we heard about her student teaching and how she's doing all the teacher's work with no pay. When Sarah's around, we always have to make fun of Matt in some way. Poor absentminded Matt. Such a dear.

Ed and Sarah and Matt were laughing about a knife commercial they saw on TV. They were pretty hilarious trying to reproduce it for me. Then I started to tell a story, which I can't remember now because I am so old, and Ed kept interrupting me (I guess he was "just jokin'"), so I begged, I pleaded with him, "just one day" - could he not be obnoxious, rude, crude, or any variation thereof?! So with Sarah laughing, (Ed amuses her), he went into the kitchen to supervise his special dish - a chicken stew, the recipe of which he got from a cooking show on TV.

Then daughter Rachel and son-in-law Chris and little Caroline popped in. I felt so warmed when the first thing Caroline said was, "Happy birthday, Grammy!" My Aunt June and Uncle Tommy called from Arkansas to give their birthday greetings. I opened a lovely card from Caroline and then a gift from Rachel and Chris, which was a corduroy jacket. Rachel was so sweet to remember that I wanted one. Unfortunately it didn't fit, but since Rachel had wanted one just like it, I told her to exchange it for one in her size. She balked, but I reiterated: I DON'T NEED PRESENTS. I JUST WANT MY FAMILY!!!!

We all praised Caroline for using the little potty which they brought with them. Then we sat down to a delicious dinner of chicken stew - except Rachel said it ought to have rice, so she got up and made some. I talked about my decision to give up any food that contained high fructose corn syrup, and this time Chris rolled his eyes. I believe we managed to get through the meal without discussing bodily functions or fluids, which must have been a first. Afterward, I took a photograph of Rachel and Matt standing back to back showing their bellies (Rachel being over 7 months' pregnant). After a few more pictures, we left Ed home and went to Friendly's for ice cream. There Sarah and Rachel got in a discussion over who was the most financially distraught. Rachel said, "I'm a stay-at-home mom!" Then Sarah said, "I have to pay to work!" We all agreed that Sarah had won. She is truly the poorest of the poor.

Someone brought up the topic of a black light that showed where urine was on a toilet seat, apparently a real product on the market, and Chris made the observation that maybe it wasn't always Ed's fault that we talk about bodily functions and fluid when we are eating together - since Ed wasn't with us at the time.

Matt insisted on paying for my ice cream, because he still didn't believe me that all I wanted was TIME WITH THE FAMILY!!! Then we all came home and Rachel and Chris took Caroline upstairs to get her teeth brushed and jammies on so that after she fell asleep in the van on the way home, she could just go straight to bed. While they were up there, Matt asked us, "Are they still up there?" After we said yes, he added, "Are they putting Caroline to sleep?" Oh, dear, Matt. I think he realized how it sounded right after he said it!

Right after everyone left, we found that Matt had forgotten a toothbrush, toothpaste, and a magazine. Lovable, absentminded Matt!

I'm sure there are many other things that happened last night, but since I am so old, they have slipped my mind. The only other thing that would have made my birthday complete is to have all the rest of the family up here with us. But other than that, it was a very special birthday, and it meant more to me than a whole room full of presents. I am so blessed.

Thank you, my dear, wonderful, quirky family!

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Narrowing choices

In the past I have posted on how our seemingly unlimited choices make it hard to simplify our lives. It is only recently that I realized that the converse is true - limit your choices, simplify your life.

I absolutely love Coke and other "sodas," as they say up in Yankee land. Coke was my preferred source of caffeine in the morning (never drank coffee), and when I found myself not only drinking a can in the morning, but another can at lunch, and maybe another can at night, I knew I was out of control. After all, there is nothing redeeming about Coke. They call it "liquid candy."
At any rate, I decided to go cold-turkey and gives up the stuff. I left the "end Coke deprivation" time intentionally blank, because it was an experiment at first just to see if I could do it and how it would affect me.

After one week without Coke, I was surprisingly still alive and just as productive as ever. I was so pleased, I decided at that point to give up chocolate, too. Chocolate in all its forms. My family thought I was pushing it, but I was so enthralled with my Coke experiment that I thought I could do anything.

And apparently, indeed I can! I have been over 1-1/2 months without either Coke or chocolate now.

The reason for posting about my experiment is this: Do you realize that limiting your choices frees up your "decision-making" part of the brain? When Rachel and I were in Portland, we stopped by Mrs. Fields in the mall to get a cookie. In the old days, I would have pondered for several minutes on making my decision, as I always worry when making decisions that I will make the wrong one - even with a simple cookie! Anyway, I glanced over the cookies. Mrs. Fields had many, many delectable-looking treats in the display case - yet, I had to choose between 2 cookies. Because I have released chocolate from my eating repertoire, I only had to choose between sugar cookie and peanut butter cookie. Wow, that was fast! I didn't realize up until that point how limiting my choices could positively affect me.

Same with Baskin-Robbins. I stopped by there this week, and out of all the ice cream flavors (not counting sherbet), I could choose between vanilla and strawberry. Every one of the remaining flavors had chocolate in it. What a timesaver! I think it wouldn't take many trips to Baskin-Robbins before I was tired of vanilla and strawberry.

I discovered that chocolate is ubiquitous in our world. Giving up chocolate is not giving up ice cream, or cookies, or cake, or donuts, or this or that. It truly encompasses a wide berth of choices, narrowing them down tremendously. I don't even have to think. If it has chocolate in it, I decline. Such time saved in decision-making!

Now, I figured with all the time I'm saving, I could get in some quilting. So yesterday I made the 50th block of Rachel's quilt. Hey, I may be on to something!