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.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Wearable Attitudes

When I receive a copy of the Reader's Digest in the mail, I immediately turn to the jokes. I'm a firm believer in the power of humor. I love to laugh - at Ed, at my kids, at my relatives, and at myself.

Sometimes I laugh uncontrollably at odd things. Frequently when Ed and I are lying in bed at night, trying to get to sleep, Ed says something completely normal, and inexplicably I just crack up then and there. Ed, who has no idea of what could have possibly set me off, just lies there silently. Gradually my laughter returns to a chuckle, and I breathe deeply, trying to get control of myself. Finally, with tears rolling down my cheeks, I calm down, at which point Ed usually will say something else, and his disembodied voice coming out of the dark invariably makes me laugh again, this time even more hysterically. I can't explain it, but the whole episode usually ends with Ed saying, "I'm glad I amuse you."

We get another publication in the mail that sometimes gives me a laugh or two. It's the catalog called "What on Earth: A Collection of Fun Wear and Delightful Diversions." Their specialty is T-shirts with witty sayings. Some of them are indeed witty, but I have noticed a disappointing trend lately. Most of the T-shirts in this catalog have insults on them.

I realize we like to express ourselves at every turn. We have to get covers for our iPods that "express" who we are. We have personalized license plates and bumper stickers. We have to find that perfect hairstyle that "expresses" our essence. Half the books in the Self Help section of the bookstore will help us find ourselves, and, once we have accomplished that worthy goal, we can turn to the rest of the books to learn how to express ourselves. Our appearance, our clothes, our accessories, our cars, our houses - they're all extensions of us as individuals, and as such, need to be chosen with utmost care.

T-shirts seem to be a popular way of voicing our opinions to the world at large, and, unfortunately, the T-shirts I am looking at right now reflect very self-absorbed, intolerant, and snobby people. For some reason in our present society, we can't even have a fleeting thought without needing to broadcast it, regardless of the effect our decision might have on civility. Whatever happened to "Some things are better left unsaid"? I suppose with the means of expressing ourselves being practically unlimited - from T-shirts to text messaging to chatting to blogs - we can be rude a lot more easily.

Here are some of the T-shirts I have noticed:
  • Just keep talking like I wasn't here.
  • So...when did you get out?
  • Looks like your airbag didn't deploy in time.
  • I'm a good judge of character and you don't have any.
  • Keep talking. Don't let my snoring stop you.
  • I get your point and it's stupid.
  • Is it me or is this place a festival of idiots?
  • Everyone has the right to be stupid, but you're abusing the privilege.
  • I can't be bothered by you.
There's even a web site called "YouHateMyShirt."

I guess the makers of these shirts think they are funny. I just don't. I have to wonder why someone would feel the need to insult everyone he/she comes across in a day. With all the hopelessness in the world, I would rather see some positive energy come across as we present ourselves to others in our daily lives.

As for me, if I have any negative thoughts, I'll just leave them in my head. They can't stay in there long anyway. The laughter will win every time.