Thursday, December 28, 2006

Time for what?

An interesting thing about having no TV - I never realized how much TV served as an alternate clock. Instead of scheduling our time by what needed to be done, we scheduled it around TV shows. "I'll do it after the news," I would say. Now I just do it when I realize it needs to be done. We are no longer using TV as an authority of when to do what.

On the downside, I didn't hear about President Ford's death until well after the fact. I'm used to being so up to date on everything.

I think things will be better once I am connected to the Internet again at home, not relying on my work connection or the occasional visit to Rachel's house. That sense of disconnection is eerie.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Days of our Lives

The Five Days of Christmas:

Day 1 without TV: "Lord, keep me from being one of those holier-than-thou people who think any experiment I undertake successfully makes me better than everyone else. Amen."

Day 2 without TV: "Wow, it's quiet around here."

Day 3 without TV: "Wish I could see the news. Wonder what's happening in the world?"

Day 4 without TV: "What's this thing called? A radio?"

Day 5 without TV: "Lord, if I weaken and go back to TV again, please help me view responsibly and limit my TV viewing to a minimum. I've learned my lesson! Now where's the remote??"

Day 1 without Internet: "This is hard."

Day 2 without Internet: "Wish I could check e-mail."

Day 3 without Internet: "Wish I could blog."

Day 4 without Internet: "Wish I could send some pictures."

Day 5 without Internet: "Lord, just help me survive until the stupid dial-up is activated!"

Merry Christmas! Thank goodness for Rachel's cable Internet connection!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

I have a good excuse...

Two days until the big move.

I am reminded of our late dog, Rusty. He used to love to cuddle up with me on the couch, and when Ed asked me to get up to do something (find the remote, answer the phone, turn down the pot on the stove, etc.,), he would look over, see Rusty, and say, "Oh, never mind. I see you have your excuse in your lap." Then he would get up and do it himself.

I have been gifted with excuses. The reason I wasn't exercising or eating healthfully or quilting or reading or playing harp is that I had a house for sale. Really - the whole scenario of constantly cleaning up for showings put a cramp in otherwise important tasks - not to mention that we were so anxious over whether or when the house would sell, which left little time for the peace of mind required to be productive and organized. I was in a full-fledged limbo and therefore frozen in time. The house was my excuse, and it was squarely in my lap.

After the house left my lap, of course, our tenure at Rachel's house climbed in. How can I exercise with an added 2 hours of driving to work every day? How can I eat right when Chris considers sugar one of the main food groups? How can I quilt or study for the CMT exam when all those tools are packed up? The answer has been, of course, no way. I sit restlessly (but guilt-free) on the couch with my excuses in my lap.

We move on Thursday, though, and that means I have to stand up and all my excuses will fall to the floor. It will be time for action and - gasp! - accountability.

We'll be a-movin' and a-shakin' - and maybe it's rather symbolic that we don't own a couch anymore.

Saturday, December 16, 2006


As we are making our final preparations for our move, we have a few decisions to make. We are moving to an area which does not provide access for DSL Internet, cable Internet, or cable TV. This is disheartening, for I have been spoiled by high-speed, dependable Internet service for several years, and I am loathe to change at this point. I don't mind downgrading my lifestyle, downgrading my wardrobe, downgrading my expenses - but downgrading my Internet speed is something I'd rather avoid.

We checked briefly into satellite service, which demands a chunk of money for initial setup and can be expensive with a lengthy commitment. Regardless of whether we go with satellite or dial-up Internet service, we were intrigued to learn that the satellite TV service is a separate package from the Internet. For the first time in our lives, Ed and I started seriously flirting with the idea of having no TV after we move.

This is not an easy decision. We're not addicted to TV by any means, but we do enjoy a wide variety of programs - mainly nonfiction types. Ed watches the Food Network primarily, but we both enjoy shows from the History Channel, A&E, public TV, the Travel Channel, TLC, Discovery, Animal Planet - and, of course, I am somewhat of a news junkie. No TV? It's a strange scenario. But intriguing.

After all, we have many interests outside TV. Ed will be spending a lot of time sawing and splitting wood, landscaping our new yard, walking the dog, cooking, and reading. I have so many hobbies I never have time for - quilting, sewing, cross-stitching, harp playing, piano playing, singing, working with photos, studying for the CMT exam, and, of course, reading. That doesn't count all the things I want to learn.

A restriction on TV wouldn't concern anyone but us. We have no kids living in the house anymore, and the grandkids, when they visit, don't watch TV anyway (Rachel severely limits their TV access, and anyway, they don't really care about it and would rather read a book).We by no means consider TV evil or anything sinister like that. Indeed, we find very educational programs to watch, uplifting, informative programs, not just entertaining ones. But even watching uplifting, informative programming takes time away from other more meaningful pursuits.

There is a grassroots movement to alert society to the effects that TV has on our lives. Check out this site, for instance. A number of web sites attest to this. Listen to Jerry Mander, the author of Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television:

In the US, the average television viewer is seeing about 23,000 commercials every year. The specific content of those messages may vary, but the intent is identical-to get people to view life as a nonstop stream of commodity satisfactions. Buy something! Do something! Commodities are life! And this message is the same everywhere.
Even if we don't talk about the banality of TV in general, the dumbing-down of America, the lack of social and family life, the time wasted - we have to mention the advertising aspect. Advertising which has grown into an art form. Advertising whose whole purpose is to encourage us to buy their products because "commodities" line the road to happiness. It's not exactly what we want to focus on during our "downsizing" journey.

I think we'll get some form of Internet service, but forego the TV part, at least for a while. No telling what we will accomplish in our new-found time!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

I have all I need

I like my little Toyota Corolla, but it lacks one feature I would love to have. On my old car, a Jeep Liberty, I could listen to the radio and simultaneously see what song was playing and who was singing it. A text message of sorts came across the radio display with these details. I really need that, because I do not keep up with a lot of popular culture and have no idea who the different groups are. Sometimes I will hear a beautiful arrangement of a song and have no idea who is performing it.

On my commute this morning, I was listening to a local station that plays nothing but Christmas music at this time of year, and song after song played as I wound my way to Ellsworth in the dark. The only voices I could recognize were Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole. All the other singers were foreign to me. Suddenly my eyes fell upon a button marked TEXT. I decided to push it just to see what happened. Lo and behold, the name of the song scrolled across the display, followed by the name of the performer. What a surprise - I had that capability the whole two years I've owned the car - and never realized it!

The situation reminded me of a children's sermon I used to give, which went something like this: A woman of modest means wanted to go on a cruise. She scrimped and saved until she finally had enough money for the ticket. She realized, though, that she didn't have any extra for food, so she packed a bag of cheese and crackers, and while the other passengers enjoyed the delicious buffets, our heroine stayed in her cabin, eating her self-imposed ration of cheese and crackers. On the last day of the cruise as she exited the ship, she discovered that the price of her ticket had included all the food, too! She could have feasted, but instead she existed on her limited snacks. The potential was there all the time - only she never realized, so she couldn't use it.

I read somewhere that we only use a fraction of our brains. Our potential for intelligence and creativity is far greater than we make use of. We think it's because we don't have enough power, when in reality, we have had it all along. Only we never realize it.

As the year draws to a close and I make my list of what I want to accomplish in 2007, I must remind myself to dream big. I know I have the energy, determination, intelligence, and skill to bring my dreams to life - I just have to tap into them. I'll take my cue from Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, who had her eureka moment after much turmoil. I don't want to discover too late that I had the power of the ruby slippers the whole darn time.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Baby Steps

It's so entertaining to watch Charlotte maneuver around a room. She is a year old now, but she hasn't learned to walk yet, and crawling is still her main mode of transportation. She laughs when she stands by herself; I can easily see that her few seconds of freedom leave her giddy. She has yet to take that first step on her own, but when she does, it will be baby steps all the way. You know the kind - wobbly, uncertain, exhilarating, anxious baby steps.

And baby steps take patience.

I know that our journey to simplicity starts with baby steps, but I seem to lack the patience this method requires. I want to leap and run a marathon immediately. I want to downsize and be done with it, making it as unconscious an act as breathing. Yet it will be baby steps for quite a while.

A book I recently read had the statement that we make over 200 food choices a day. That surprised me; in fact, it didn't seem possible. Yet, every time we pass a Baskin Robbins, every time we pass a bakery, every time we open the refrigerator, every time we go to the supermarket, we make choices of what to eat, what not to eat, even whether to eat. The same thing can be said for all other choices in our lives. The art of enveloping one's life in simplicity is an evolution, which by definition is ongoing.

So far in our effort to downsize and simplify, we have managed to get a good crawl started. Our new house is not the place for a marathon - at least not yet. But it is the perfect location for taking our journey to the next level - those tentative, scary, thrilling baby steps.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

I pass dead people

From our place of temporary abode in Winterport to my place of work in Ellsworth and back again - that is how I spend 2 hours of each workday. I've never had a commute that long before, and it certainly has made me anxious to move into the new house, which will cut that commute to about 10 minutes. In spite of that, a long commute does provide me with some reflection time.

I pass two cemeteries on this commute. Back in Tennessee, it seemed like there were cemeteries around every corner, but up here in Maine they are few in number, probably because cremation is very popular here.

Cemeteries have always fascinated me; I'm not sure why. In one way, because of my spiritual beliefs that the body is only the temporary holding place of the spirit, a cemetery is insignificant. It's just a repository. But in another way, the symbolism is too strong to ignore. I pass dead people and they talk to me.

Lest you think I've lapsed into schizophrenia, I want to emphasize that I'm not actually hearing voices. But the dead do speak to me, reminding me of life's fragility. They encourage me to keep my priorities straight. They urge me to make my life fulfilling while I can. They remind me that all this can change in an instant. There's nothing like death to get one to thinking about life.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


A desire for peace and simplicity is an admirable goal, of course. But, as every gift has a corresponding curse, I have found that to be so in my movement to simplicity. Specifically, I have been battling the demon of judgmentalism.

I guess that kind of thing can happen with a lot of other life changes. You give up smoking, and you get upset with smokers. You lose weight, and have no tolerance for overweight people. You go the simplicity route, and - yes - you find yourself looking with disdain on the Hummers and mansions and every other evidence of overconsumption.

I was driving home yesterday, listening to a local radio station playing 24/7 Christmas music. During the break, the announcer reminded everyone that their DJs were temporarily living in a truck outside the Bangor mall, collecting food and money to distribute to the poor this Thanksgiving. Immediately after the break came an ad for plastic surgery. Not plastic surgery to fix gross deformities, but plastic surgery to nip and tuck if you've lost weight but still want to look "toned." The contrast in the two messages was so evident. Some people can't afford to buy food while others can afford all sorts of nonessential "extras" to make their lives more to their liking. I try to start getting my priorities in line, and all of a sudden, those kinds of things seem to jump out at me. I think sometimes it's because they lift a mirror to my lifestyle, past and present, in many ways, and that upsets me. It can be just as hard when you're aging to look in a psychological/spiritual mirror as to look in a physical mirror.

I think it's partly that I'm trying to simplify and partly that I'm getting older, but other things are bothering me more than they ever have. Take grocery carts, for instance. At any given moment in our grocery parking lot, there are 30 or so carts strewn around as if a tornado had been by. The store has those cart drop-off places in several locations, but it doesn't matter. Too many people are unloading their carts and then just leaving them there. How long does it take to push the cart back to the holding place? A minute? Less than a minute? What is the problem? I could understand it if the offenders were old or infirm, but the ones I have seen do this are able-bodied people. What are they thinking? Some of these carts are left to roll around only a few feet from the holding place. They strike parked cars when the wind blows, they block otherwise empty parking spaces - I just can't understand the whole situation.

The things that irked me when I was younger are irritating me even more now.

I loved the movie "Grumpy Old Men," but I don't want "grumpy" to be my main personality trait for the rest of my life. I certainly don't want judgmentalism to represent my attitude of the world. On my journey to simplicity, I find that life is never simple.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Was the patient turned on?

My job as a medical transcriptionist takes complete focus. People who don't know what MT involves think, "How easy it must be! You just type what you hear!" Never that simple, folks. For one thing, sometimes your hearing can trick you.

Today the doctor dictated, "The patient got lamb stuck in his throat." I initially thought he said, "The patient got a lamp stuck in his throat." In the half second it took for me to catch my error, I thought, "Hmm...he must have been told to have a light diet."

I love my job!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The attic

I grew up in only one house, the small one my mother still lives in. One of my favorite places to go was the attic. The only way to get to the attic was through a set of pull-down steps, which were located in the hall ceiling. One pull of the cord, and the metal steps released their full length with loud clangs that could be heard anywhere in the house. Once they were secure on the hall floor, we could gingerly make our way up to the chamber of secrets.

The attic was basically our only storage space, so you never knew what you would find there. We went up there to get Christmas stuff down every year, but sometimes we just went up to explore. Only the center of the floor had flooring on it; the sides underneath the rafters just had insulation. I remember when someone - I can't recall who, but Joy would remember, I'm sure - stepped too far off the side and made a hole in the den room ceiling. Add to that limitation, the roof height was short, so mobility up there was rather tricky.

The star of the attic was Mother's cedar chest. There she kept the things she cherished. Our first locks of hair, some baby clothes, and other treasures that spoke of a life filled with love and happy memories. I remember the lovely cedar smell that permeated the air whenever we opened the chest.

When we went up to the attic to retrieve summer clothes, it always made me feel strange to be able to see the Christmas stuff nearby. Back then, you didn't see Christmas stuff in the stores starting in the summer, and usually not even before Thanksgiving. It was a little jarring to be going up there for shorts and T-shirts, when just a few feet away lay a Christmas card holder and tree ornaments. When one is a child, anything associated with Christmas is imbued with some sort of magic. It was not an ordinary time of year, and everything connected to Christmas was not ordinary either. Even up in the attic, I viewed the Christmas stuff with awe.

As I got older, my interest in the attic contents switched from old toys and baby hair to Daddy's papers. He kept old magazines and newspapers, speeches he had given, letters he had written, old books, and all sorts of other goodies that piqued my interest. I can vividly remember spending long periods of time sitting in the attic, right at the top of the steps, browing through all this old stuff.

These memories came back yesterday when Ed and I went to our new house. The workers haven't done anything for a week because of the heavy, steady rains we have been having. The ground is too muddy and soft to allow trucks to come in. The well, which was scheduled to be dug last week is still absent, and granite countertops are not there, the siding is noticeably missing, etc. But it was the first beautiful day in over a week, so we decided to drive to Hancock and take a look around the house.

We will have an attic when we move. Ed made sure to specify that the attic should be completely floored. Yesterday was a perfect time to see it, since we were there during daylight hours (the house has no electricity yet). We pulled the cord and down came the row of wooden steps. Going up wasn't a problem. I couldn't believe how large the attic was. It was the length and width of the house and completely floored. How exciting! What storage possibilities! What magical things will be stored in this mysterious place? Will our grandchildren consider it a place of treasures?

I can't quite make my way up and down the tiny steps as nimbly as I used to when I was a girl. But the enchantment of the attic for me has stayed intact and strong. Now my challenge is to balance the anticipation of having an attic again with the tiny warning in my brain reminding me it is dangerous to have too much available storage space when one's goal is to downsize!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

You make me feel so young..uh, old

Living with my grandchildren, I have many opportunities to see the world through their eyes. I've heard that being around young kids can make you feel young. That's true, but the opposite is also true - kids can make you feel very old. Caroline, for instance, often reminds me of my infirmities, at least from her vantage point.

Last night at supper, she was not eating all of her carrots. As a rule, she likes carrots, but last night I think she was anxious for dessert, so it took a little coaxing from the rest of us to finish her meal.

"Carrots are good for your eyes," said Chris. "They help you see better!"
"Yeah," said Ed. "If you don't eat your carrots, you may end up looking like me - bald with glasses!"
At that, Caroline paused to take a close look at Ed. I'm not sure what was going through her head, but I knew she was trying to picture herself bald with glasses. Either that, or she was wondering how carrots got to be such a power broker in human transformation.

Later that night, I was helping give Caroline her bath. She told me she wanted more soap on her washcloth. I said I'd do it, but as I reached for the soap, she took it gently from me, looked up and said, "No, thank you. I'll do it. You can't see." She squeezed the liquid soap on her washcloth, then looked up again. "I have the goodest eyes in this house."

Of course, I realize Caroline thinks I am old, as I used to think all my elementary school teachers were old. But back then, all ladies of a certain age dressed "old." They wore clunky shoes and long dresses and jewelry and had their hair in buns. I really have no idea how old they actually were. But in the perspective of us second-graders, they were definitely old ladies.

This was my challenge when I became a grandmother. I think most Baby Boomers want to be a different kind of role model for "old ladies." Both my own grandmothers were elderly and frail by the time I was old enough to know them. They never wore shorts, or got down on the floor and lifted me up on their knees, or even chased me around the room. Even as I look in Caroline's books, all the grandmothers in the pictures are dumpy, dowdy, and wearing aprons.

Yes, my eyes are not what they used to be. I still get down on the floor with Caroline and Charlotte, but it takes a lot more effort to get back up. When I get home from my commute, I sometimes prefer to sit down for a while instead of playing with the doll house. But she accepts me all the same - with all my limitations as well as my strengths, most of the time with patience. Through it all, she can make me feel 5 years old one day and can make me feel 70 the next. I'm beginning to think the power is not in the carrots - it's really in Caroline.

Friday, November 10, 2006


When my sister and I were children, our parents presented us with a record which taught us all the instruments of the orchestra. It even came with a miniature baton, just like the conductors used. Alas, my instrument knowledge went the way of my early geographic knowledge, and even after years spent at the Auditorium in Memphis listening to the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, I still cannot identify many of the instruments. The only instruments I play, of course, are the Celtic harp, piano, and organ. I flunked guitar lessons. Does the kazoo count?

At any rate, on my long commutes to work these days I am listening to my favorite Christmas CDs. One of my favorites is recorded by a brass band. I love listening to brass. The music reminds me of football games and Christmas carols. As I enjoyed my CD this morning, I realized that my brain was tuning in on the tubas. That is rather strange. I'm a soprano, and one would think I would be more attuned to the trumpet, for instance. I have never played a tuba and have never known anyone who did. The rest of my commute was spent in contemplation. Why was the tuba resonating with me?

The tuba is the foundation of every song on that CD. It keeps the beat, keeps all the other instruments in place. It's firm, solid, dependable. It may not be a romantic instrument, but it is certainly the rock of the orchestra. Its notes aren't fancy. It's not a show-off type of horn. But it's there when you need it. No surprises. Just a firm, steady beat. I can anticipate each note even before it is played, because it's usually a predictable sequence.

I concluded that I am probably being drawn to the tuba these days because my life otherwise is so up in the air. I've heard people complain about being in a rut - how uninspired, how depressing. I long for a rut! I long for the steady beat of the tuba, counting in a dependable rhythm, undergirding all my activities. As comfortable as our temporary quarters are in Rachel's basement (thanks, Chris, for finishing up our bathroom!), I still yearn for drawers instead of Rubbermaid containers, a desk instead of an underbed box, and a place to call home. I long for rut and routine!

Routine boring? I've never understood that. How could I possibly be bored? I have so many interests that I will never have enough time to fulfill them. Too many books, too much fabric, too many patterns, too many places to visit, too many sites to see on the Internet, too much music, too much learning!

No, all I want is to be settled and organized. I want to know where my clothes are. I want to play my harp again. I want to finish my quilts. I want to have all my stuff on shelves that are low enough for me to reach. I want that foundation, that rhythm of life that supports everything around me. Nothing fancy, no bells and whistles. Just a nice, firm beat that I can count on.

Mozart's critics said he had "too many notes." It can also be that way in life. There's something to be said for monotony.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Grammy Tales

3-year-old Caroline was pensive while she was enjoying her bath.
"Grammy," she said, looking up at me, "you're an old lady."
Taken slightly aback, I paused, then agreed, somewhat jokingly.
Caroline continued. "And you're gonna die. But not for a long time."
She sighed. "I will miss you."

Another time she told her mother she wanted to go to a site on the internet and order something online and have it sent to her by Fed-Ex.

At least that's what I think Rachel told me. Of course, I might not remember it exactly right. I am an old lady, after all...

Friday, November 03, 2006


When I was in 7th grade, I had to take a class in art. It was a completely new experience for me. This course was only half a year, and it was required (a situation that usually aggravates my usually hidden stubborn side), and on top of that, music was my passion, and I didn't really see art as a useful skill. Mr. Tatum opened my world to new ideas.

In one of our first assignments, Mr. Tatum showed us a picture of a street. "Look at the telephone poles," he said. "See how, as your eyes are drawn down the road, the poles get shorter and closer together. This is perspective."

Wow! That was something I had never noticed before. He taught me to appreciate how perspective can take a flat surface and transform it into depth and shadows and distance. It was the same piece of paper, but the artist's skill changes the picture entirely. That lesson has remained with me since.

I took the above picture today. Ed and I were visiting the new house site, so we parked the Liberty and walked around. What you see here is our new basement. I laughed when I saw the photo, because the distortion in the picture makes the car almost look like a toy standing on the hill. The perspective is askew.

My goal for this time of transition is to keep my sense of perspective. We have so many phrases to interpret this idea that it has become almost trite. "Don't sweat the small stuff." "Choose your battles." "Consider the glass half full." A step back to check perspective is the only way we will be able to handle all the frustrations and hassles that will inevitably overtake us in the next few weeks. It's not easy to move in with our adult kids. It's not easy to live out of boxes. It's not easy to walk around on tiptoe to avoiding waking the baby. It's not easy adjusting to a 45-minute commute. It's especially not easy to cultivate patience when all we want to do is get settled in our new house.

Perspective tells a different story. All this is temporary. And in this temporary waiting period, I have found the joy. What can compare to little Charlotte falling asleep in my arms? What can hold a candle to hearing Caroline spell "stone"? What could possibly surpass our warm bed and delicious meals from Rachel? The funny story from Chris about setting off the car alarm and not being able to turn it off? All these experiences and more we would have missed had we been able to move directly into our new house. A simple change in perspective transforms impatience into contentment.

It's a powerful lesson from a little 7th-grade art class.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


One of my favorite bumper stickers reads: "Life is not a dress rehearsal." In that case, we are smack dab in the middle of an extraordinary play in progress. I know the plot outline, but the actors always are prone to improvisation and there's no telling how the play will end.

In case you came in late to the show, the previous act related the drama of selling a Queen Anne Victorian in Maine. By the end of the act, the house was indeed sold, and the curtain came down as one family tenderly said goodbye and another family took their place. Compelling drama has always made effective use of entrances and exits.

We are now officially homeless - that is, we have no address. Our Victorian changed hands yesterday, and so I told our daughter Rachel, with whom we live now until our new house is ready, that we are completely dependent on her and her husband for sustenance, shelter, and showers.

As hard as it is for me to believe, some people actually never get attached to their houses. They can stay one month or ten years - and they never feel sad about leaving. My supervisor is like that. When she left her house of twenty years or so, I considered taking a beautiful photo of her house and having it framed for her. I had the foresight to quiz her as to her emotions, and boy, was I glad. I learned she couldn't care less about leaving her home, and I had to find a more suitable gift.

I, on the other hand, have plenty of pictures of our lovely Victorian. I took pictures from the first time I saw it. In the twelve ensuing years, I have taken many, many more. I've been blogging for almost two years about it, since it is an integral part of our attempt to downsize and simplify.

Rachel and Matt tried to remind me that it wasn't the house so much as it was the memories that I didn't want to lose. In a way, that is true, but the hard part is that the house has interwoven itself with our memories in such a way that it would be as difficult to separate them as it would be to separate the threads in a blanket. The house will live in our collective memory with plenty of photographs to refresh that memory, for the years will pass and the memory will fade of what color the trim was, or what the pattern in the stairway runner looked like. The important things will always be carried in our hearts.

I can't complain. The family who bought our house fell in love with it, too, so they will take good care of it and change things about it to suit them. That's as it should be. For a couple of months, that family shared the stage with us in a scene, then left to continue their own play. Meanwhile, the curtain drops and we are preparing for the next act. It promises to contain all the excitement, laughter, and - yes - melancholy that are always the staple ingredients for this play we call life. Don't even think of getting up and leaving the theater; I hear the next act will be a doozy.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Going after beer

I followed a beer truck today. I found myself right behind it as I traveled to Winterport to Rachel's house. It had the word "Heineken" painted in large letters across the back, and I, though a nondrinker, know enough of cultural things to recognize that this is a brand of beer.

Beer was my enemy for many years, because Ed is a recovering alcoholic. I say recovering, because that's what they tell us to say, but as he hasn't had a drink since 1984, I would say he has recovered. At any rate, I did some reminiscing as I drove a few miles behind this beer truck. I thought about life's many surprises, the unexpected twists and turns, things that make our lives turn out in the oddest, wildest, most incredible ways. One minute I marry an active alcoholic college dropout, and before I know it, I'm sleeping with a sober United Methodist pastor with a Master's degree. Go figure.

The move from Tennessee to Maine still has the power to shock me. One day I'm a pastor's wife, moving around from parish to parish, and before I know it, I live in Maine - Maine! - in a 3-story Victorian house and I become a medical transcriptionist. Whoa - when did that happen?

For that matter, I still can't believe I'm the mother of 2 kids! I can't believe I'm 52!

Oh, the things I have learned - things I never would have planned, but now I can't imagine life without them. At one point in my life, I learned to quilt. At another point, I learned to play the Celtic harp. This year I even went sea kayaking! All of these changes have affected my life in a substantial way. Some I faced with fear, some with excitement, some just with a sense of wonder.

The popularity of horoscopes and fortune-telling is evidence that some people have an innate desire to know their futures. Not me. I certainly wouldn't want to look forward to the bad things, and I wouldn't want to miss the joyous surprise of the good things.

And I'm still traveling. Not behind the beer truck anymore, but on the move nonetheless. Tonight is the last night we spend in our house, then we continue our journey in another location. Life is just full of surprises - and through gentle tears, I am smiling.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Who? Where? What? Why? How?

On an MT chat board I frequent, one participant is moving this week also. Her son had an accident - he dropped a pickle jar on his foot, severing a tendon, and after a trip to the ER, now has to see a specialist. Another MT responds: Someone once asked me what I thought hell would be like. I replied without hesitation, "It would be moving forever."

I can see that. Truth be told, we have been lucky, though. So far, no accidents or unexpected mishaps. A cost overrun on the new house yesterday, which originally would have run $2000, has been contained to $700, so that's somewhat of a relief.

So where's the hell? I think it in our sense of place, where we are, where are possessions are. The sense of discombobulation, disorder, disarray, disorganization, disturbance - I guess if you add "dis" to a word, I can use it.

I read an article in Good Housekeeping about a boy born blind and deaf. He goes to a special school where the first step of their daily routine is to get oriented. Each blind and deaf child comes through the door and stands with his/her back against a table. From that position, they all have learned where the various parts of the room are located, and therefore, feel comfortable and safe in their situation.

We are lacking that starting point of backing up to a solid object to get our bearings. Instead, moving is kind of like floating like a leaf - never knowing if you will land in the middle of the street or on the roof of a skyscraper. Our clothes are in boxes. My toothpaste has disappeared again. Every once in a while, I have to trudge down to the garage, our temporary storage area, and look through everything to find a certain box - either to retrieve something or add something to it.

On top of that, we are really moving twice. Once to Rachel's, once to the new house. Things have to be packed accordingly. This time next week, I'll have my first long commute. No telling what that will be like.

Ed likes to joke that for the next few weeks, we will be officially homeless. So that means we have the joy of mail forwarding. We forward our mail from Lincoln Street to Rachel's house in Winterport. When we get a new address and mailbox, we will simultaneously forward THAT mail to Rachel's. Then when we move in, we will have the Lincoln St. mail forwarded to our new house, and have any mail being sent to Rachel's (from various change-of-address forms I have filled out) forwarded to our new house....

Someone put a table over here. I need to lean against it!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Scarier than Halloween...

These last few days before the move find us understandably stressed to the max. With the many impending logistical decisions - not to mention a yard sale tomorrow with a whole group of strangers walking around our lawn evaluating our possessions - we are only functioning thanks to extensive (very specific) lists. I'm surprised I don't have a list entry that says, "Brush your teeth."

Of course, I expected all that. Who wouldn't? Any sane human being with life experience realizes the anxiety involved in moving, and the closer the move date, the greater the anxiety. That's not the problem.

So what scares me? The move itself? No. The possible problems with the construction of the new house? No. The possibility that I might not have enough time to handle the necessary details? No. The temporary displacement to Rachel's house? No.

I realized this week that what scares me is the downsizing itself. Oh, it's easy to talk the talk. I've blogged for two years about how downsizing is the only logical way to go - good for our bank account, good for the environment, good for our lives. And that's truly the way I feel. But the time for talking has passed. We are at the starting gate for downsizing, and it's getting time to walk the walk.

As they say, what sounds easy on paper is not always easy to implement. We've been laughing with family and acquaintances that "we are going from a 4000-plus-square-foot house to a 1500-square-foot house" but I just realized - deep down - the scary part of downsizing. And it's almost upon us.

Oh, we're not going to be in a shack. Far from it. We're not moving to the bush in Africa; we're not going to live in a log cabin where we have to fetch water from the well. We will have quite pleasant accommodations in our new home. But all the little conveniences we have gotten so used to in the last ten years are simply going to vanish along with this big Victorian house.

A walk-in closet the size of a small room - with 8 long shelves, 2 of them wrapping around the perimeter. An oversized garage with automatic door openers. 2-minute commute to work. A place to actually sit down to put on my makeup. Unlimited drawers. Unlimited book storage. Cable internet. A sewing room so big that my cutting table can be extended all the time. A mailbox at the front door.

We will have no garage. The famous Maine winters will wreak havoc on our cars, and I will have to spend a good amount of time in the morning scraping ice and shoveling my car out of the snow. We will have to bring in groceries through all kinds of nasty weather. I am inheriting a 7-mile commute over roads that are not always adequately plowed. I will have no shelves in the closet, no unlimited hanging space. No chair in the bathroom. Very few places for our beloved books. Probably no high-speed internet. I will have a sewing room, but it will also serve as my office, so it will be tight. The mailbox is 1/4 mile away from the house, living in a communal setting with the mailboxes of our neighbors.

It has finally hit home. We are actually downsizing. We are scaling back on our way of life. We will be a little more cramped, a lot more inconvenienced, and our way of living as we have known it for 10 years will be dramatically altered. That's a scary adjustment. I am pretty confident that we will meet the challenge successfully, but it's no coincidence that closing is on Halloween. BOO!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Agony of Motherhood

My kids make my life hard. In the first place, they make me spend hours on end in deep thought, wondering how I got so lucky. In the second place, they have ruined my makeup because they make me laugh so hard I have tears running down my face.

In the third place, they leave me stranded in society, because when all my coworkers gripe about their children, I never have anything to add to the conversation.

The complainers certainly don't want to hear how proud I am of my kids. They definitely would not be enthused to hear of all my kids' accomplishments. They would be disappointed to hear how I dearly love and appreciate both my son-in-law and daughter-in-law. They would be miffed to hear that my kids are smart, well adjusted, creative, tolerant, and compassionate. They would be jealous to hear me say that I love my children dearly, I light up when I get to talk to them and see them.

How dare my kids lead me to the point of total happiness and joy?! Life is good.

Monday, October 09, 2006

The Stages of Letting Go

This is to all you fellow downsizers: It gets easier.

When we first started downsizing two years ago, our first task was to go through all our hundreds of books. They took up a whole room in the attic of this Victorian, and we knew our new smaller house would not have space for them. My first blog post ever was about the angst of having to get rid of our precious books.

The first part of choosing which books to purge was not as difficult as I thought. I could easily see several books that were out of date for the subject, or books in which my interest had waned. Those I weeded out quickly without remorse. Apathy was the theme of the day.

The second round of elimination was harder. The easy decisions had been made, and now we were down to the group of books that we might have liked to have kept, but knew we wouldn't have room for. The books in this category were the "might" books. "I might read this again one day..." I auditioned each book, just like a game show contestant. Each book had an opportunity to present its case to me. I tried to be fair, but I agonized over letting go. We ended up selling some and giving away even more, but each one was a piece of us that we couldn't take with us. The only way I could get through the whole paring down situation was to consider the fact that we are only caretakers, not owners, of things in this world, that we had had possession of these books long enough, and it was time to relinquish them to others who will also enjoy them. It was difficult, but doable.

Today was the third round of elimination. Now, think about it. This is the group of books that have made through the first two rounds. They are the creme de la creme. Did I waver? Did I stall? Did I approach the boxes with trepidation? Surprise! I was ruthless! "You're all winners," I said, surveying what could have been a group of pageant contestants. "But, alas, some of you are moving on to the yard sale. Thank you for your service. Goodbye."

Then I tossed. And tossed. And tossed some more. I did not weep - I actually relished the cleanout. For you see, the ensuing two years since the initial decision to downsize have changed me. In that time, I have learned to let go. I have learned more of what my priorities are. I have learned the value of things replaceable and things irreplaceable. I have learned what "cherish" really means. I have learned how not to keep things just out of habit or convenience. I have learned not to buy something just because "I want it."

I still can't complain. Even with the number of yard sale items growing every day, I still am keeping a lot of books - Lincoln books, Agatha Christie books, books that were given to me as gifts by people I love - so I really feel I'm not sacrificing that much. I'm just weeding the garden so that the true flowers can grow and be appreciated.

Of course, after I gave an emotional speech to Ed about what I've learned about simplicity in the last couple of years, he just grinned. "Nah," he said. "It's because you finally realized how little our new house will be!" OK, that too.

As time grows nearer to hand over the keys, I will soon be facing the greatest obstacle to my emotional stability - the turning over of the house itself. I fear the books pale in comparison.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Keeping up

Call the electric company and set a cancel date. Call the phone company and do likewise. Call cable company for same. Call the garbage pickup company and schedule last pickup. Change billing addresses. Forward mail. Pick up absentee ballot. Rent U-Haul truck. Rent storage container. Advertise yard sale. Check on new lot preparation. Make a list. Make another list. Make several lists. Lose the lists. Find the lists.

These are just some of the inevitable tasks before us this week as our countdown to the big move continues. I have heard enough voices saying "Press 1 for this, press 2 for that, press 3 for something else..." to last me a lifetime. I have marked up my calendars so that I can barely decipher anything. I have finally bit the bullet and started to go through all my hundreds of quilt magazines to decide which ones I want to keep and which ones I am willing to part with. (Ed has been trying to get me to do that for years, and I insisted I wanted to keep all of them. However, when I cleared out a storage area in the house where I had stored the magazines, even I realized I had way too many!)

We did find and visit our new "City Hall" in Hancock. When I stopped by the post office to ask where City Hall was, the poor lady laughed for ten minutes. "City Hall?" she said as she tried to catch her breath. "We don't have cities around here!" She wiped her eyes. "You mean Town Hall? It's the next road to the right." So sue me. I'm originally from Memphis. Town Hall, Shmown Hall. It's all the same - it's where you go to find out rules and regulations of your new habitat.

Town Hall of Hancock is in an old small building which also houses the Hancock Historical Society upstairs. (I almost typed "Hancock Hysterical Society" because I'm still thinking about the laughing post office worker.) It's a one-stop shop. We will get the usual things there like dog licenses. We will pay our taxes. We will vote. All in its one room. We'll definitely be in a small town. Makes Ellsworth, our current town, seem like the big city.

All in all, I'm going crazy. When others are hunkering down for the winter and looking forward to Halloween, we're busy unhunkering down in preparation for closing on Halloween.

I hear people compare busy, frustrating times like these as being on a treadmill. You work and huff and puff but don't get anywhere.

Oh, we're getting somewhere, all right. I have little balls of chocolate candy in my mouth, my sleeve, my pockets, and under my hat. Yes, like the photo above, I feel less like I'm on a treadmill and more like I'm Lucy and Ethel trying to keep up on the candy factory assembly line. As the move date approaches, those candies keep coming faster and faster and it's all I can do to stuff them anywhere I can.

It's now about three weeks until move date. I think I'm going to have a eat a chocolate or two to get through this!

Friday, September 29, 2006

Frozen in time

My sister surprised me with the best birthday present ever: She took her free time (of which she has nearly none) and scanned some old family slides, which she then e-mailed to me!

Our dad was known for his love of documentation. He wanted to record everything from family events to church events to everything in between. For instance, he delighted in being able to pull a notebook out of his file cabinet that had documented every light, gas, and water bill they had had for decades. Want to know what they paid for that washing machine? It's there. Want to know what the hospital bill was for Mom's appendectomy shortly after they got married? It's there, too.

As a choir director, he didn't want to repeat hymns too often, as he wanted lots of variety, so in his personal hymnal, he would jot down the date each hymn had been used. In another book, he recorded the choir's anthems and the dates they were performed. Oh yes, if you needed to know some family or church information, no matter how trivial, our dad was the one to go to.

His most important documentation legacy, though, was not trivial at all. He wanted to document our growing up, mostly with reel-to-reel tapes, slides, and home movies. Years ago, we had the home movies transferred to VHS, which, of course, still needs to be transferred again to digital media. My sister has from time to time transferred some reel-to-reel tapes over to cassettes (which, again, needs to be transferred into digital at some point). Thanks to scanners, we are scanning old photographs to digital, and now we are finally getting around to the slides. A digitalized version of these slides is my wonderful birthday gift.

There we are, two sisters, frozen in time. Professional photographs are truly cherished, but these candid photos taken in our home in Memphis tell so much more. The picture above was taken in what was supposed to be a "den," but was our bedroom, because our elderly paternal grandmother was living in the extra bedroom of our small house. (Joy and I always shared a bedroom until one of us left home.) The window behind us looked out into the front yard, and on hot summer evenings, our parents would turn on the attic fan and we'd open that window and get the refreshing breeze that the fan extracted from the outside.

Joy and I are a year and 9 months apart, so we have always been close. It is a pleasure to look at our two faces, a snapshot of happy childhoods, close family ties, and those 2-piece pajamas that snapped together.

I remember that once before Dad died in 1980, I asked him about the new-fangled "talking home movies" that were coming into the technological realm. "Oh," he smiled, "that's great, but I'll leave those for y'all." I can also remember how early on, Dad tried to teach us how to "pan" the movie camera slowly, to avoid the hurried, dizzying feature that was one of the trademarks of the amateur home movie enthusiast.

When a new reel had been developed, you'd think we were in a big Hollywood production company reviewing the daily footage. We wouldn't bother to put up the big screen for those; Dad would just set the camera on the dining room table and projected the movie onto the wall. It wouldn't be long before we'd see Dad sitting at the same table one evening, using his splicer to edit the new movies and attach them to the appropriate large reel.

As fun as the movies were, we got used to them. We knew every scene, but they never got boring. It was endless fascination as we watched ourselves grow, commenting on the stupid-looking clothes, or our excited expressions.

The slides, though, were seldom seen, because it was such a long process to get the slide projector set up along with the big screen. So that's what makes this birthday gift even more precious.

Thanks, Dad, for the memories. Thanks, Joy, for sending them to me.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

It's all in the head (or on the bed, or being fed...)

I do believe that my dreams have gotten stranger as I advance in age. Last night I dreamed I was making an entire quilt out of Butterfinger candy bars. Believe me, that was no easy feat! I don't know if my subconscious is wanting to quilt or pig out on sugar. I will say one thing, though - it gives an entirely new meaning to "Sweet dreams."

Friday, September 22, 2006


"Default, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves." OK, I guess it's too early in the morning to mess with Shakespeare, but I've been thinking about the word default all week.

I am talking about default in the computer sense. This is the definition that has swept through our language since the beginning of the technological revolution:
A preselected option adopted by a computer program...when no alternative is specified by the user or programmer.

For those of you who aren't computer literate, I'll state it differently: My computer has its mind made up. It has a predefined way to format things I type, and, unless I specify otherwise, it assumes I want "the usual" and every document I create will be set up in that predetermined way. I guess it's like going into your favorite restaurant and having your waiter bring you your usual glass of iced tea before you even order it. You always have iced tea and your waiter knows this. It's automatic - no planning, no thinking, no decision-making involved.

However, what if one day you walk into the restaurant and you have a hankering for Coke? Even more importantly, what if you have evolved into a bona fide Coke aficionado and you never want iced tea again? Before you can even open your mouth to voice your order, here comes your waiter with the iced tea. Iced tea has become your default order, and you'd better speak up pretty quickly if you want something else instead.

Or you could have a private conversation with the waiter and tell him you want Coke from now on as a general rule.

The word processing program for my iMac is called Pages. and in general I think it's a great program for my needs, but there was one minor problem I wanted to overcome. When I open a blank document, the default setting is a rather ample space between paragraphs. I don't like that space, so each time I begin a new document, I go into the formatting options and narrow that space. It doesn't take very long to do this, but my lazy but productive self thought there must be a better way. I needed to have a personal conversation with the waiter and change the standing iced tea order. I could not, however, figure out a way to change this default. So I did what any normal person would do - I asked my geek family members to figure it out for me.

My son Matthew came up with the method, I changed the default, and now I'm content....well, almost. Now I want a default for my life.

For one thing, I'd like my eating and exercise habits to have a reliable default. One that says, say, 90% of the time I eat right and exercise regularly without even thinking about it, and I'd allow the other 10% of the time for slacking. I want a default so that without even thinking about it, I would exhibit patience over irritability, love over anger, generosity over selfishness, acceptance over anxiety, and hope over pessimism. I want good habits and good attitudes to be my default approach.

Now my Pages software has its spacing default set to a narrower width. Every time I create a new document, it will automatically have that narrower width spacing. It is set until I decide to change it again.

I wish life were that easy!

Friday, September 15, 2006

The Wedding Dress

It's 4:30 a.m. and I decided to just get up. Believe me, if you knew how much I would rather be in bed snoozing, you would wonder why I'm up and blogging on my day off. Well, a strange dream woke me up and I felt the need to document it.

I dreamed we were pastoring a church at an unknown location, and a young man and woman in our church were getting married. It was the night before the wedding, and for some reason, I took the beautiful wedding gown home. As is the case in many dreams, I can't offer a reasonable explanation why I had taken the dress home, but I did. It was therefore my responsibility to make sure the dress arrived to the wedding on time and in perfect condition.

I had to make the journey to the church on foot through all sorts of terrain. A busy highway, a pothole-filled dirt road - you name it and I had to carry that beautiful, heavy, embroidered, pearl-encrusted gown. The journey was filled with peril at every turn - mud, animal feces, holes, limbs, speeding cars, and darkness. At one point, I tried carrying the dress directly above my head to keep it from dragging the dirty street, but it was just too heavy. I tried folding it up so it took up less space, but it just unfolded itself. I had to do a serious juggling/balancing act, as I tried to keep the dress unharmed while watching the road surface and my surroundings, and try to remember the directions to the church. Hey, that was no dream - that was a nightmare!

When I got to the church, I was relieved to find the gown intact, and as the wedding coordinator saw me bring it in, his joy soon turned to curiosity. "Where is the garment bag?" he asked. The garment bag? Oh yeah, the garment bag - the one I was supposed to put the gown in to carry it on its journey. The one which would have protected it and kept it clean. The one I totally forgot about. That garment bag.

I would have slapped myself in the head vis-a-vis those old V8 commercials, but at that point I woke up.

The time is drawing near when we hand over the house. Closing is Halloween, and we will move out the week before that date. We have been responsible for this lovely old house for over a decade now (owning it 12 years and living here over 10 years). It has been important in our lives; indeed, it is a piece of our lives now. It is nearing time to hand this heavy, delicate, pearl-encrusted jewel of a house over to its new owners. We have a month and a half to keep it in perfect condition, making sure the embroidery doesn't unravel. The journey always has elements of risk involved. The need for coordination is paramount.

And, in the end, we are relieved yet saddened to hand the gown over to the bride, for in reality, during the whole journey to the church, the dress was hers all along; we were just temporary stewards.

As a veteran list-maker, I have extensive lists of what we have to do, when we have to do it, what we have already done, and what we have left to do. As a chronic worrier, I have the nagging sensation that I may forget to take the garment bag, that I am overlooking some tasks that would make our journey smoother and less complicated.

Oh, well. The "Journey to the New House" is just one part of the "Journey to Simplicity" and the "Journey of our Lives." It gives me great comfort to know that in my dream, I managed to get the dress to the bride intact and she was able to wear the dress with joy and pride. We may forget about a garment bag, but we will make the successful journey anyway.

It's a beautiful jewel of a house, and I am thankful we were able to be a part of its long, eventful life. Weddings always make me cry.

Friday, September 08, 2006

"Jack - Come on Down!!!"

The Price Is Right, I believe, is one of the oldest shows on TV. Who can forget their signature call when Bob Barker identifies the next contestant? "Mary Smith - COME ON DOWN!!!" Next thing you know, the audience erupts in chaos and Mary Smith jumps two feet out of her seat and runs down to the stage, clapping and screaming all the way.

We had to use that phrase today. You see, when the painters painted the exterior of our house a few years ago, they neglected to paint a 6-foot area of trim. Now that we are selling the house, the buyers understandably have requested that that trim be painted. Sounds easy, right? It's only 6 feet. You know there has to be a catch, right? It's under the eaves on the third floor.

Most of the painters we have contacted do not consider getting paid $50 to paint 6 feet of trim on the third floor "easy money." In fact, they don't consider it a job worth their time at all. After considerable effort, we finally turned to a man I'll call Jack, whose real name in this post will not be mentioned as a gesture of goodwill on our part.

Jack is a local resident about 60 years old who makes his living doing what they call "odd jobs." We have utilized him many times for taking trash to the dump, since we don't own a pickup. (Not regular garbage, but the special extensive trash one generates with a good basement or garage cleaning.) He has always been dependable and can always use the money, so Ed called Jack and gave him an offer he couldn't refuse. He told Jack that he would pay him $50 for just a few minutes of work - painting the eaves on the third floor - assuming he owned or could borrow a ladder long enough to reach said area. Jack said, "OK, why not?" I personally could think of several reasons why not, but Jack, as nice as he is, has always seemed to be, well, not the wisest of men.

Sure enough, this morning he arrived in his red pickup truck with a long, long ladder, which he proceeded to stand against the house in the appropriate vicinity.

Alas, the ladder was tall enough, but it wouldn't reach the eaves, so he left and came back with two more ladders and some rope. Up the ladder he went for the second time, holding a can of spray paint in one hand and the shorter ladders in the other, the rope dangling by his side.

Meanwhile, I was in the house trying to stay busy to distract myself from poor Jack on the roof. I heard the little noises associated with ladders and climbing, but just tried not to think about it. Finally, I was forced outside when I heard the electrician drive up. Ed was busy holding Jack's ladder, and I realized I would have to deal with the electrician.

There we were, the three of us standing in the driveway, shielding our eyes from the sun as we watched Jack clumsily maneuver around with his equipment. I was going to take the electrician in the house to show him what needed to be repaired, but I couldn't move. It was like watching a car wreck or a horror movie. You want to turn away, but you can't.

Jack had climbed all the way to the roof, and had tied a rope around his waist, which had been strung around the chimney, then crossed over to a gingerbread wooden ornamentation. As we watched anxiously, Jack shouted down to the driveway. "D'ya think that will hold me?" he asked, pointing to the small piece of wood. My husband yelled back, "I have no idea. It's been there over 100 years." I couldn't tell if Jack took that to mean it was sturdy or to mean it was so ancient it could disintegrate at any moment. Jack warily shuffled across the roof and still couldn't reach the eaves.

Well, that's just great, I thought. Jack will fall off our roof and kill himself, our chimney will come with him, and the ladder will probably fall back and hit the electrician's truck. At this point, I turned to Ed.

"Get him down," I whispered.
"Get him down."
"But he's already up there."
"Make him come down. Tell him we will pay him the 50 bucks - just make him come down."
Ed looked up at the scene on the roof. He sighed. "OK."

"Hey, Jack!" Ed shouted. "Never mind it - just come on down!"
Jack looked perplexed. "Huh? Hey, Ed, d'ya have a roller brush on an extension pole?"
Ed shouted louder. "Never mind, Jack! Just come on down! We'll pay you the $50, just COME ON DOWN, FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE!"

Jack, though confused, finally acquiesced. He removed the rope from its various stability points, threw it to the driveway, and, as Ed held the ladder, Jack slowly made his way down. I could hear him mumbling something about "didn't really do anything." He felt guilty about taking the check, but I was so relieved he was finally on the ground that the $50 didn't matter to me much at that point.

Of course, this means we are $50 poorer and we still need the trim painted. But Jack, bless his soul, survived intact, and on top of that, the electrician got an interesting story to tell his friends.

Jack would never make it to the stage on The Price Is Right. I think they want people a little more excited to come on down.

Thursday, September 07, 2006


I work only a few blocks from my house, so I used to drive home for lunch every day. Most of the time when I got back to work, my parking space (near the door, because I am the first one in the office every morning) was usually taken, and I had to scour the parking lot for another one. After a few years of playing "musical cars," I decided that the lunch hour excursion to home was not worth the hassle, and settled instead for a sandwich at my desk while I checked e-mail.

Today, however, for various but predictable reasons, the office stress became too much, so I came home, had a quick lunch with Ed, then headed back. When I returned to the hospital, it was the same familiar scenario - my spot was taken. I found another parking space and went back to work. At quitting time, I was walking out to my car, heading in the usual direction, when I had one of those momentary lapses in memory. Why was another car in my parking spot, and why wasn't my car there instead? Then I suddenly remembered. "Oh!" I said out loud (I tend to talk to myself out loud). "That's right - I moved!"

I had to chuckle. How I have wanted to say that lately - "I moved!" That will have to wait, though. Closing on the house is scheduled for October 31, and it will be another month before we actually move into our new house.

What a versatile word - "move." I moved my car. We will move into the new house. That piece of music really moved me. The first two examples note a physical change in position. The third example has a different, more abstract meaning. When I listen to beautiful music, I may not move physically from my chair, but I definitely move spiritually. My emotions move to a totally altered state of consciousness. Those transcending minutes can carry me through sometimes.

I hope the next three months will be full of moving moments for us. Both kinds!

Monday, September 04, 2006

Hands Can

I bought Caroline a book when she was younger called Hands Can. It rejoices in all the various things hands can do. For instance, "Hands can catch/and hands can throw./Hands can plant seeds in a row." Now Charlotte is enjoying the story of hands.

What drives me and others like me to be creative with our hands? I don't go sledding or cycling because of my innate fear of injuring my hands. I make my living with my hands, of course, and would be financially devastated if I could not transcribe anymore. But the creative things I do with my hands - play the harp and piano, quilt, cross-stitch, sew, bake bread, write - these are the things I would really miss if I sustained a hand injury.

Ed always said that when we lovingly make something with our hands (or minds or both), we are actually "co-creators with God." Out of nothing comes beauty. Out of unorganized ingredients comes form and shape. Things that are useless by themselves (flour or fabric or a harp sitting silent on the floor) are touched and as if by magic, they transform our worlds. Our chosen creative outlets enable us to use our gifts. I believe everyone has gifts, and one of the most important duties for parents and teachers is to help children discover their individual gifts. So many of these gifts can be brought to fruition through the hands.

My sister in Memphis has been deluged with figs from her backyard fig tree. Even after giving some away, she still had too many that would spoil quickly unless she did something. So she decided to make a jar of fig preserves. Never having done anything like that before, she did some research, bought the jars and tops, and brought forth her creation. She burned her hand a little because she didn't have all the proper equipment, and I figured that, by the time it was all said and done, that jar of preserves cost a lot more than the one at the grocery store, but all the same, she actually made a jar of preserves which fed more than her stomach - it fed her spirit. She also enjoys working with her hands doing woodworking.

I can feel a void in my life when I don't take time to be creative. There is nothing like the feeling of the harp strings vibrating under my fingers, or running my hands across a soft quilt, smiling at the designs, remembering when I purchased the fabric, and reminiscing about what was going on in my life when I hand quilted it.

Why do we bother? With our time constraints, why don't we just buy a blanket at Wal-Mart or a jar of preserves at the supermarket? There's just something about that act of co-creation that refreshes our soul. There are other quilts and other preserves, but none exactly like the ones we made. As individuals we are unique, and our creations can be, too.

Ed and I recently read some articles on whether food made with love tastes better. There is general consensus in some groups that when you make something with your hands (especially if you are loving the process), that love flows through your fingers into the product, and indeed it affects the product in an invisible way. Sleeping under a quilt handmade with love brings an unseen comfort that you don't get with a Wal-Mart special. We are more powerful than we ever imagined.

Hands can; they can, indeed!

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Making waves

What a ride on the ocean! My sea kayaking trip with Audrey was fantastic. The sea was royal blue, the kayak was yellow, we held our paddles in perfect position and paddled in perfect coordination! As you can see from the picture, I was all smiles. that's not me, that's a paperdoll, and that's not our kayak, it's a Christmas kayak ornament, and that's not the ocean, it's a blue potholder. I don't have a picture to post yet and that's the best I can do until I buy another scanner.

As for the rest, well - the sea was gray from an overcast sky, and we weren't in perfect unison in our paddling and our technique was not flawless. But our kayak was yellow, yes siree!

The main part of the description is absolutely on target, though. It was a wonderful experience and I was all smiles! We got some waves from a passing whale watching boat, which delivered an unusual sensation as we bounced around in the ocean. Our guide was a hoot, and we didn't turn over and we didn't drown, and we managed to get where we were supposed to be when we were supposed to be there. We only bumped other kayaks a couple of times, and at the end, Audrey thanked the other participants for their patience with us "2 old ladies."

We finished off her visit with a 2-hour hike in Acadia National Park and then we returned to shop in Bar Harbor, the site of our so recent achievement.

Alas, Audrey flew home this morning. Last night I was complaining that while she was here, I ate out too much and had too many sweets, etc., and I vowed to get back on track when she left. At that point, I realized that her departure was imminent, and turned to Audrey and begged her to extend her visit. She had no intention, unfortunately, of staying a few more days just so I could gorge myself on inappropriate foods. Some friend, huh?

Thanks to Audrey for a memorable and exciting week! Except for the small cans of blueberries she had in her suitcase that the airport security feared were potential explosives, everything went very well. Gotta watch those blueberries.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


As I mentioned earlier, getting older means getting comfortable with routine and predictability. Every once in a while, though, something (or someone) will come along and nudge us just a little into other possibilities.

Ed has always tried to get me to try new foods. I have always balked. He wonders aloud how I ever got weaned. He wants me to try various mushrooms and stinky cheeses. He wants me to taste buffalo and lamb. No thanks, I'm fine - really, I am.

This week we are hosting an old high school friend of mine, Audrey. We have known each other since 7th grade, were close in school, but our lives have diverged, as is often the case, and we have not kept in touch as we should have through the years. She works at the library in Memphis, but she is licensed as a massage therapist, and one never knows what Audrey will do next. When a mutual friend died a few years ago, we both realized that life will not wait for us to take time to see each other, so Audrey flew up to Maine from Memphis, and we are having a grand time.

And today, we are going sea kayaking.

Unless you know me well, you probably did not get the inflection in that previous sentence. AND TODAY WE ARE GOING SEA KAYAKING! By the red capital letters and exclamation point, you may infer that this prospect excites me. You would be wrong. This prospect terrifies me.

Audrey wanted to go kayaking while she was here, and I reluctantly consented. You see, I can't swim. It's one of my many limitations. I can't even tread water. I've never been in a kayak before. All this was dismissed by Audrey. "You'll love it! Don't worry! You'll be safe! Nothing will happen!" My first inclination was to respond with a resounding NO, but then I thought about stretching.

I have always believed in two kinds of stretching. The first is the kind where you lift your arms and lengthen your muscles, extending every fiber and tendon, repeating the exercise with your legs and back until every portion of your body is relaxed and content.

The second kind is what they used to do on the medieval rack. That's called torture. Whenever I "stretch" myself in life, trying something scary, I obviously choose the second definition.

Nevertheless, in less than 5 hours I will be sitting in a kayak in Bar Harbor with a 10-minute lesson on paddling, in a strange device that, with a few modifications, could look suspiciously like a casket. Everyone assures me I will have a wonderful time. I certainly hope so.

I guess this is another opportunity for me to stretch a little out of my comfort zone. Audrey is willing to take the accolade or blame, depending on how the adventure goes, because she is responsible for my stretching today. That reassured me until I realized that as a professional massage therapist, she has patients who, although they feel better in the end, are relieved only after considerable pain has been inflicted on their poor, tense bodies.

After the kayaking, Audrey wants to go hiking. You will understand, then, that as we shopped yesterday around the sports store, I hid the rock climbing brochures. No sense in giving her any more ideas.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Signs of Life

It occurred to me the other day that road signs are full of life wisdom. Construction Zone, for instance. That could describe my sewing room. In a state of disarray, tools lying about, with danger in every square inch - scissors, needles, pins, rotary cutters, hot glue, hot iron. (I still remember the time that I sewed through my finger with the sewing machine needle.) Construction zones are pretty much dangerous territory. They're full of productive activity, but you have to tread carefully. When I'm in a Construction Zone mode, I have to remember to be cautious.

Many road signs are just warnings. Slow Down reminds me to do just that. Watch Out for Falling Rocks reminds me that life is full of treacherous, unpredictable events. Junction Ahead signs suggest that I prepare myself for the next step toward my personal goals. Moose Crossing can work both ways - a hope of catching a glimpse of one of those fascinating creatures, or the nightmare of having one crash into my windshield at 60 mph. Signs that warn of sharp curves in the road or steep downhill inclines demand that I adjust my driving (and living) accordingly. Scenic View signs serve as magnets, urging me to stop for a few minutes and enjoy beauty.

I thought about all this as I was driving to Winterport to see Rachel et. al. last weekend. I always take the same route. It's comfortable and familiar. It may not be the shortest way, it may not be the prettiest way, but it's the way I've always done it. She made it easy for me when she moved a few years ago. I take the same route to get to her new house as I did to get to her old house, up until a certain point. At that point, the end of a divided highway where I used to turn right, I now turn left and continue the rest of the way. There are no surprises. I know every mile of the trip, every road sign, every house for sale, every store, and every pothole and frost heave.

That day, however, as I pulled up to the intersection to make my usual left-hand turn, I was disconcerted to see a man in a construction vest waving at me. As I turned my head to the left, I saw a crowd of people lining the street. My heart sank. A parade. Oh, good grief!

The man waved me on. There was only one way to go. I had to make a U-turn. Was he asking me to turn around? He certainly was. I made the U-turn and found myself heading back the way I had come - in a state close to panic. I had met the Enemy, and its sign was Detour.

The older I get, the more I like ritual and routine. A change in routine greatly frustrates me. On this day, however, I was more than frustrated. I was extremely distressed, because in essence, I was lost. I was fine as long as I stayed on my regular route, but a change in course threw me into chaos. I had never driven around in that area before. You might as well have picked me up and set me down in the middle of Iraq. I had no idea where I was driving or how to get to Winterport.

I turned onto the first street to the right, pulled over in a parking lot, and called Rachel, explaining the situation. She told me to continue on that side street to see if I could get through there. I couldn't, of course. But I found a kind lady in another construction vest who took pity on my lost self and tried to get me back on track. She too directed me to make a U-turn, and suffice it to stay I went several miles out of the way in unfamiliar surroundings before I found myself back on the main road at an intersection that I recognized.

I could say here that because I took the detour, I was able to see a flock of wild geese, or a gorgeous flower garden, or some other wonderful thing that I would have otherwise missed. Well, I didn't. The detour was boring, uninspiring, and nondescript. Nothing beautiful happened and I wasted a lot of gasoline and a lot of time.

When we were moving to Maine from Tennessee, we usually received two reactions. Half of our friends asked why on earth we would want to do that, and shook their heads. The other half claimed it would be an incredible adventure for us, and they wished they had the guts to do it themselves.

Detours are like that. There is a certain comfort in methodical planning and a nasty shock when sudden alterations in the plan are necessary. On the other hand, there can be an ennui to methodical planning and a rush of excitement when one realizes that there is unchartered territory here, and maybe - just maybe - a few surprises. I guess we all need shaking up once in a while to remind us that we are still alive.

I have never liked detours on the highway or in life, and that fact has not changed. I am reassured, though, that when the detours come - and they will - I can emerge unscathed and continue on my journey.

Friday, August 18, 2006

In praise of books

Rachel called me this week to tell me she found some of her diaries from junior high and high school. Together we laughed uproariously as she read to me some of her entries, which held all the angst-filled and love-smitten prose an adolescent can create. She apparently was infatuated with a boy in her class whom I will call Brian McDuff. From an episode of "eye contact," she was certain of her future and had her whole life planned out. She would marry Brian McDuff and they would have wonderful kids. She had even named the kids. Ah, yes, Brian McDuff would make the perfect husband. So much for Brian McDuff.

I wish I had diaries from my childhood. They would make some funny reading, I am sure. Actually, I have tried to keep diaries on and off since I became an adult. I've recently been reading aloud parts of these to Ed, especially the entries I made around the time we bought this house and then about 2 years later, when we finally moved to Maine and got to live in this house. Matt (then 13) and I had driven up first, then Ed and Rachel and the dog followed a week later. So Matt and I basically lived in the house with very limited furniture until the rest of the family arrived with the movers close behind.

I faithfully recorded our trip up here, then continued to write about our days together - days without TV, VCRs, radios, or computers. We spent our time wandering around downtown, playing darts, and assembling jigsaw puzzles. Of course, we had to eat every meal out because we had no cooking utensils. We still had use of our car, though, so we drove down to the ocean one day and enjoyed sitting on the rocks. As today I read my scribbles and jots, I can relive the anxiety of looking for a job here. I can remember the relief when the rest of the family arrived safely and we were together again. I can feel the joy of finding my transcription job. I can recall the sense of wonder and miracle that we were finally living in our dream house.

In my life, I have kept journals and diaries intermittently. Usually I went to the office supply store and got a plain red book with a lined page for each day of the year. On the front of the one I am reading now, it says, "1996 Standard Diary. " Then on the bottom of the cover, it says, "Daily Reminder." There were a few times when I found this plain red book aesthetically lacking, and bought a journal which had calligraphy on the front and the page layout was more artistic. But I usually returned to the faithful red book. I guess "standard" described my life well.

It's been a few years since I kept my journal. When the kids went to college, it seemed as if my daily life just consisted of writing, "Went to work. Watched the news. Had chicken for supper. Called Mom." Not very much seemed to be happening that was worthy of recording, so I just dropped the whole thing.

When I started this blog, I once again wanted to keep a journal, and this time, it would be a virtual diary! What could be more appropriate? How easy would it be to sit down at the computer, where I usually am anyway, and type my thoughts and activities in an ordered, clear fashion? I downloaded the appropriate software and started typing away. But it wasn't the same. Oh, I had plenty to write about...but I guess after typing all day in my job, it wasn't as much fun as I thought to type more into my computer diary. Besides - my posts ended up in, well, cyberspace. They weren't on the Internet, but they were somewhere floating in my computer's brain. I could access them, but I couldn't touch them. I couldn't turn the page. I couldn't take them and sit in the living room and read them to Ed. They somehow didn't feel real, and they certainly weren't satisfying.

There's just something about a book. The feel of it, for one thing. I can run my fingertips over the gold "1996" and can actually feel that the numbers are a little embossed and rough. I can read from January 1 directly to December 31 and relive all the events and adventures of that year. I don't have to punch keys or nagivate a mouse. I just turn page after page after page. I can tell by my handwriting exactly what mood I was in when I wrote each entry. Some days, I was obviously hurried, and each letter scrambles to identify itself before the next letter overtakes and sometimes obliterates it. On other days, each word is well formed and my thoughts in perfect coordination - I must have had plenty of time to record my day. Without the use of bold, italics, or changing the font name or color, I still managed to solidify my daily life and thoughts for posterity.

When I put the "1996 Standard Diary" back on the shelf, I get a tiny thrill of placing it in its chronological order, and as I do so, I mentally and emotionally place that eventful year in a special corner of my heart. I have found that the whole experience is for me so much more fulfilling than "File - Save As - Close."

Don't get me wrong - I love my iMac! When my last computer crashed, I went crazy trying to figure out my checkbook, bills, addresses, pictures, blog - all which my computer and/or the Internet so faithfully stored. The computer has its place; however, nothing can ever replace a book. (But apparently somebody can replace Brian McDuff.)

Friday, August 11, 2006

When things lighten up...

My dad was a busy man. He worked as a bank teller for a full work week and also directed the church choir, which took over Sundays and Wednesday nights (as well as other nights for meetings at the church, for he was also a church leader). That left Saturdays, which was usually devoted to grocery shopping and chauffering his father-in-law to various destinations, as well as for years an every-other-Saturday trip to see his mother-in-law who was confined in a mental health facility two hours away. Weeknights would find him driving my sister and me to and from the Ellis Auditorium, where we ushered for the Metropolitan Opera, the Memphis Symphony, concerts, and Broadway shows.

In other words, Dad had very little time for himself or his hobbies. He never complained; in fact, he was always graciously willing to sacrifice his time for others. Every once in a while, though, we would catch a glimpse of longing in his gray-blue eyes as he dreamed of spending more time on traveling, more time on his stamp collection, more time on his home movies, more time on his reading, and he would say his mantra: "When things lighten up, I'll...."

Well, they never did lighten up. There was always more choir music to plan and practice, more meetings, more obligations. There were the parents' nights at school, which he always made sure he attended, even if it meant canceling choir practice. There were funerals and illnesses, weddings and birthdays, things that needed done around the house and yard, and hours spent trying to figure out how to send his two girls to college.

So he squeezed his hobbies in where he could and came, I believe, to accept that life was all about the journey and not the destination, and he understood that his life was fulfilled in many different ways. He never did get all his dreams accomplished, but then, who among us ever does?

I find myself saying the exact same thing. "When things lighten up, I'll..." and you can just fill in the blank. Get back to quilting, cross-stitching, sewing. Practice piano, harp, singing. Learn how to use Photoshop, Garage Band (a Mac program on my computer), and get all my books entered in Delicious Library (a book cataloging system on my computer). I'll focus more on healthy eating, get some exercise, try to commune with nature, read those books, learn geography.

Alas, things don't lighten up. At least not for very long. I have so many things "on the back burner" that I'm about to overload the electrical circuit.

For instance, I said, "When we sell the house..." The first step has been taken in that goal, because I am pleased to announce that we HAVE A CONTRACT! As they say on the TV informercials, "BUT WAIT! THERE'S MORE!" Lots more, in fact. We have to get a general inspection, we have to replace 3 window panes, we have to have a radon inspection, we have to get the furnace cleaned, we have to get some trim painted, we have to open up a door that has been caulked closed - and that's just for the house we are selling. The list is just as extensive for the house we are building. Decisions to make, plans to finalize, loans to organize, then we spend the rest of the time hoping the contract holds and the interested buyers will not back out for some reason so we will not be left "holding the bag."

So I say, "Well, when we close on the house..." Nope, things won't lighten up then. Because it's then we will have to MOVE. I don't want to even think about how much fun that will be.

I keep moving my timeline to when I think things will lighten up, but deep down I know, being one of Ensley's daughters, that I am just kidding myself, and that instead of wistfully dreaming of the time when things will lighten up, I will just have to plan my life around stress and chaos and obligations.

I'm hoping my new book will help. It's called The Renaissance Soul: Life Design for People with Too Many Passions to Pick Just One. The title described me perfectly, and I am anxious to read it. And I'm not even going to wait until things lighten up to do so!

Friday, August 04, 2006

When Worlds Collide

Anyone who knows me realizes that I am not a nature person. It's a defect I readily admit. I would be more appreciative of the outdoors, but so far all my hobbies and interests are effectively enjoyed indoors, not to mention the fact that I'm supposed to stay out of the sun and I'm allergic to blackfly bites.

Of course, because we are selling our house, we have to consider its outdoor appearance, and that, unfortunately, includes the presence or absence of weeds. Our driveway needed to be repaved when we moved here 10 years ago, and we never did anything because it was something we could live with, and we instead decided to invest our house upkeep money in other things that needed to be done.

So we have the usual cracks and potholes that a driveway in Maine frequently boasts. Winters can be hard on asphalt up here.

Anyway, I finally got so tired of looking at all the weeds growing through the cracks in the driveway that I decided to mount a full invasive assault on them. It was not pretty. It would have helped to have a little knowledge about weed destruction before I started. I went in with the naivete of a nature novice. In the process, I learned a few things.

  • Prepare yourself with the necessary equipment. I don't garden, so I didn't have any equipment. After first pulling up weeds with my bare hands, I finally remembered I had a pair of gardening gloves hidden in a drawer somewhere that I used last winter to help Ed bring the wood in. I wore shorts, though, and didn't have kneeling pads or knee protection, so I spent all of the time in the battle either with my back bent over or squatting. Not good. On top of that, I wore sandals. Every time I pulled up a handful of weeds, the dirt came with it, which promptly landed between my toes. Along with whatever insects had made that pile their little home.
  • Timing is everything. Score one point for me - I waited until the heat wave was over to do the dirty deed. Score one for the weeds - it had just rained and the dirt was, well, let's say "moist." I don't know the measurement equivalent for volume of dry dirt versus wet dirt, but those weeds tried to hang on to every last molecule of the messy stuff, and wherever the soil plopped, it stuck.
  • Don't look under a rock unless you are fully prepared for what you will see there. No explanation needed, but suffice it to say I won't be having spaghetti anytime soon.
  • Even "useless" things can serve a purpose. Stupid me, I thought weeds growing out of cracks in the pavement were just unsightly. Too late did I realize they had embedded themselves in the cracks because the cracks needed to be filled. After the first huge handful of weeds brought with it a barrage of dirt, I looked down and the crack suddenly looked like the Grand Canyon. Oops.
  • Know your enemy. Ed has always belittled me because I don't know a weed from a flower or a bush from a tree. Hooray - my ignorance didn't matter in this project. If it was growing in my driveway, it was going. It was that simple.
  • Don't understimate the enemy's strength. Some of the weakest-looking weeds had the longest roots. They reminded me of Matt's tooth-pulling incident. He used to multitask when he was little. He would suck his thumb, hold his blankie to his face, and try to walk down steps at the same time. One day he fell down the steps and hit his lip. The trauma killed one of his baby teeth, and the dentist said it had to be pulled. How much root could a teeny tiny baby tooth have, anyway? Turns out a BIG one. Apparently its root gets smaller and smaller as the child grows, until the root is gone, and without the root, the tooth falls out. You can never tell from appearances who or what has the greatest tenacity.
  • It will hurt you as much as it does them. After my almost-52-year-old body had endured an hour of non-stop bending and crouching and pulling, I tried to walk up the hill back to the house. I am sure the neighbors thought I had been taking drugs, as I swerved back and forth, trying to urge my leg and back muscles through one last heroic effort of exertion. I had certainly had my share of "weed," but it was the yard pest kind.
So that was my learning experience for the day. At the end of the hour, I hoisted the trash bag over my back like Santa Claus, and I paused for a moment of silence to remember the various bugs whose neighborhoods I had uprooted. My time with nature was at an end. That'll do me for a few months at least.