Inspiration Everywhere

Wanting to support our wonderful local bookstore, Wolfmueller’s, I attended a book-signing for “The Gillespie County Fair,” by Marc Hess. I was interested in the story, anyway, because it’s about a nearby town, Fredericksburg, Texas, and a fictional account of its transformation from a sleepy German farm community to a tacky tourist trap (my words, not the author’s).

I had a nice conversation with Hess and we discovered we know quite a few of the same people through our involvement in the Writers’ League of Texas (of which he is a board member). I mentioned that I used to be a poet but I’m mostly doing art now and haven’t been involved in the League for some time.

His response really struck me: “Can you really ‘used to be’ a poet?” I backtracked a little and replied, well, I guess I’m still a poet and I do incorporate some of my poems into my art.

I thought about his comment all the way home and throughout the evening. My current artwork is almost entirely abstract cut- and torn-paper collage postcards, without text. Even if I’m not currently writing poetry, I have hundreds of poems I could incorporate into postcards or other art.

Back in February I did capture a beautiful early morning moon and added a haiku to the photo to make a postcard. After I complete the color series I’m working on (for the upcoming spring postcard swap) I’m going to dig through my poems and think about the inspiration Marc gave me.

“Moon and tree,” original photo and haiku

This technically could be posted on my Jillybeans blog, so if you’d like to see some of my current (and past) artwork, hop on over there. Cards for last fall’s international postcards swap are here.


After the failure of homeschooling, the granddaughter started back to public school on January 8. We finally got a good rhythm going after Spring Break– two-and-a-half very rocky months.

But we have a pretty good system now, where getting to and from school is going like clockwork, without the drama of the first weeks.

I had wanted to get back to the gym since last fall, when the outdoor pool got too cold. So a few weeks ago I finally started doing aquatic aerobics. It’s a great workout with an indoor pool full of nice, mostly older, mostly women. The first person I met, who was friendly and welcoming, is 90. I’m already trying to keep up with her!

The Buddha quote hangs on our bathroom wall. Years ago a therapist told me to go to one of Austin’s New Age shops and find something that really spoke to me. That was it. I had an epiphany a few years later. I’ve always thought “Everything that has a beginning has an ending; make peace with that and all will be well,” means “this too shall pass,” as a difficult time. Then one day while pushing a grandchild in a baby stroller it struck me that it means everything, the good bad and the ordinary. When mired in chaos and confusion, when my back hurts and everyone is cranky, I need to remember this. When walking the dog in sunlight and a gentle breeze, I need to remember it.

One of my father’s favorite sayings was “nothing is constant except change.” (At my suggestion, that was my high school senior class motto.) It’s so natural, in bad times and good, to get stuck, to think this is the way it’ll be from now on. And it never is. Get used to the roller coaster.

While drifting to sleep recently, I coined a word: “Rest-spa,” or, “respa,”a place I want to visit, if only in my imagination. A spa for respite, rest, massage, meditation, eating and sleeping, being alone or with others, peaceful.

In real life, my respites are what they’ve always been, with the addition of the new water exercise regime: music, our comfortable home, being in nature, reading, knitting, making art, walking the dog.

Home meditation


My view from the dining table.


Pecans, the last to bud, a true sign of spring.

Baby tomatoes in the garden.

Junior making friends with his “negative double” in the neighborhood.

Knitted scarf three years in the making. Fine German wool.

Starting a new shawl project with deep rainbow yarn (probably another three-year project, which is ok).


Safety Net

Lying awake a few nights ago, bracing for the next day’s stress with the grandchild, I fretted over my very long, color-coded to-do list. Why did I have so much going on, so much I felt I needed to do?

In my last post I briefly shared the challenges of raising a 12-year-old. If you think raising a grandchild is difficult, multiply that by 10 and you might be close. Every morning is a battle just to get her to school. I am incredibly grateful to the counselor, nurse and other staff at her school, who tell me to “Just GO,” they’ll take care of things.

Musing about the to-do list, I realized I NEED it. It’s my safety net. No matter what else is going on, no matter how worn down I feel after the drop-off, there are a dozen things I can turn to that will feed my soul, or at least get an onerous chore done.

The color-coding works, too. Orange is for top priority, deadline items; yellow is second; green, third; blue is creative stuff; pink is self-care. Sometimes they’re combined and orange overlays yellow; pink and blue (i.e. purple) are special–creative self-care!

Is the list too long when you have to tape another piece to the bottom?

Just a sample of my recent/current list: minutes of the church board meeting (I’m board secretary); drain, clean and refill the hot tub; find a therapist for myself; several sewing, knitting and art projects; practice my music for the Hill Country Chorale… etc. I even have sub-lists on separate sheets (gardening and household projects, specific art ideas, sewing and knitting projects).


Fun art prompts.

I’ve never been much of a shopper, but since I’ve been retired I’ve found I enjoy browsing thrift shops with nothing particular in mind. Yesterday, between knitting group and picking up granddaughter at school, I popped into Finds and picked up a stack of books and this gorgeous silk jewelry travel case, which was a whopping 50 cents! I don’t really have much use for it but it’s so gorgeous I may just hang it on the wall. What’s funny is that the piping was white. When I washed it the water looked like Big Red, and the piping turned pink, which now matches the lining!

Jewel case folded for travel.

Open with various size zipper pockets. Isn’t it gorgeous, for 50 cents?

I also stopped in Home Town Crafts for canvases (yes, I have an urge to paint) and picked up some yarn to make chemo caps.

Soft yarn and colors for chemo caps, which I donate.

A few weeks ago I went with a friend to The Tinsmith’s Wife, a yarn shop in Comfort, and got some gorgeous yarn for a shawl, which I’m excited about starting soon.

I’m excited about the challenge of knitting a shawl.

Years ago I was talking to a poet friend. We had just moved and I was overwhelmed with having too much to do. She said, “Be glad you have too much to do. You will never be bored.” She was right, and that lady has since passed away. I still think of her when I wonder if I have too much to do.*

I needed to bring a little sunshine into the house today.

*In memory of Peggy Zuleika Lynch

The Part Where It Gets Harder

If aging is a tunnel and there is a light at the end of it, we’ve clearly been hit by the freight train. Bette Davis was right about old age not being for sissies.

The other day someone used the word “elderly” in reference to a situation with me.

Adding to my anxiety is the suspicion that the worst is yet to come. Despite my relatively good health and a great support system, good medical care and sufficient resources to face what may come, I still have nights lying awake worrying about what’s ahead.

Home-schooling the 12-year-old turned out to be a huge mistake. I won’t go into detail to respect her privacy; I’ll just say it’s not working. She will attend a small private alternative school next year, possibly this year if an opening comes up.

But what has really piled on the concern is that my husband has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s. He actually diagnosed himself after reading an article by Alan Alda and putting his symptoms together. Some of them he’s had for a year or more–twitchy finger, shuffling, soft voice, some confusion. I thought of Alzheimer’s, looking for zebras while a herd of horses thundered by.

An advantage of living in a town with a large older population means there is plenty of good medical care. Gary has seen two neurologists; he has had physical therapy, voice therapy, a regular therapist, and he attends a support group. He can also get gym membership for tai chi or yoga.

He’s doing everything he can to be healthy. He walks, does his vocal exercises, takes all his meds religiously. He continues to perform his one-man 90-minute monologue of Clarence Darrow, which is an impressive undertaking for any actor. His neurologist assures him he has many good years ahead.

But. Everyone I talk to knows someone with Parkinson’s and has scary or sad tales of former athletes in wheelchairs, loved ones having to go to assisted living and every other sad scenario that accompanies aging and illness.

I try to keep a positive attitude and do all I can to keep myself strong and healthy. I meditate, get plenty of exercise and stay involved with my art, our church community, my knitting group, and friends and neighbors. I keep several inspirational books by the bedside. I remind myself that self-pity is unproductive.

My meditation tree.

The hardest thing is being patient with him and dealing with the challenges of the 12-year-old. Some days I am so worn down I go to bed at 8:30. The dog usually gets me up at dawn. I gripe and groan, but then I go out to a brilliantly clear, cold morning. Last week I saw a meteor from the Geminid shower. Sunrises over our nearby park are breathtaking.

Junior is my comfort creature, and for him, for life, for all that is beautiful, I am grateful.

Beautiful AND sweet, forgiven for the early wake-up.

I wish everyone good health, peace, joy and gratitude this holiday season and in 2019!


French Impressions

If there is reincarnation, I want to come back French. I love the countryside (no billboards, no Walmarts!); rolling green hills with fluffy sheep, happy cows and puffy chickens; the people–the myth of surly French is not true. Everyone we met went out of their way to be kind and helpful; the food–oh, the baguettes, pastries, cheeses and wines! I loved going into a boulangerie and walking out with a beautiful baguette poking out of my shopping bag. I felt so Parisienne! And I got by with my terrible French. I discovered if you try to speak French, they will switch to English because they don’t like their language spoken badly. If they didn’t speak English, we got by with pointing, hand-signals and writing down numbers. Language, or lack of it, was never a problem

Our trip included a few days in Paris and a Seine cruise. I’m glad to have made it to Paris once in my life, but I’m done with large international cities. As Thomas Friedman says, “hot, flat and crowded.” An hour wait to get into the Musée D’Orsay, on an October weekday! I can’t even imagine it in June!

River cruising is preferred our mode of travel from now on. What a wonderful, relaxing, even luxurious, way to see the world. We were on the AmaLyra, part of the Amawaterways fleet, and I highly recommend their cruises. The service, food, wine, excursions, entertainment–everything was sublime.

The homeschooling granny is still overwhelmed, even more so with family health issues adding to the mix, so I’m just posting some snapshots with very little narrative. Just go to France and see it for yourself!

The incentive for the trip was the Klimt exhibit in Paris. I was not disappointed. In fact I was in tears within minutes, it was so overwhelmingly beautiful–the art, the music, the whole immersive experience. Watch video on YouTube here.


Notre Dame

Ste. Chapelle’s magnificent stained-glass windows

Chateau Gaillard, ruin of Richard the Lion Heart’s castle overlooking the Seine

Honfleur harbor and its beautiful produce markets

Normandy: Omaha Beach, the U.S. Cemetery, Memorial and Museum


Normandy: remains of the artificial harbor built by the Allies, Arromanches-les-Bains (Gold Beach)

German gun (two views)–so much better surrounded by flowers

German bunker

Rouen Cathedral, which Monet painted 28 times, some from a nearby lingerie shop where he put up a screen so the ladies could still try on their dainties.

You can have what Julia Child had–this restaurant was her inspiration to become a French chef

Rouen’s one-handed clock

Peeing (for drainage) statue at a Rouen church

Our captain was kind enough to tow a grounded working boat. We watched the rather delicate operation from the sundeck.

Another view of Richard the Lion Heart’s castle, from the river, on the return trip

Monet’s house and gardens at Giverny

Look closely for the kiwi fruit.

House and interior

Japanese gardens and lily ponds

We also visited L’Orangerie, which Monet designed to show his huge water-lily paintings. We saw it before we visited Giverny. (Giverny was my #1 bucket list item. Seeing Giverny, L’Orangerie and the Klimt exhibit were the highlights of the trip for me.)

Musée D’Orsay: some of my favorite Van Goghs: “The Bedroom at Arles,” “Church at Auvers,” and “Night Stars.” (Sadly, I missed seeing the actual church; it was near the end of the cruise, I was sick and we were both exhausted, so we stayed in the cabin watching “The Longest Day,” instead of taking the shore excursion. After seeing the Normandy beaches, the movie was incredibly powerful.)

Rodin’s Balzac, and the clock in the museum, which was once a railroad station.

Farewell to Paris and the Métro, with which we have a love-hate relationship. It’s the best way to get around because Paris traffic is awful (worse than Austin, Texas, which is saying something). But my husband was injured in a crush onto a train when his leg went into the gap (on our third night!). It put a bit of a crimp on the trip, but he hobbled through and we really enjoyed France, especially on the cruise.

Rue St. Maur station. I love the old Art Nouveau station entrances.

Au revoir.













Because of my very complicated family life, I’m prioritizing my obligations and shedding some less-critical activities, including social media (Facebook, Twitter, blogs and the like). I hope to return before very long, but in the meantime, I’ll share what I consider to be the secrets to success.

I recently listened to a TED talk about “grit,” or perseverance, being the best predictor of success in a young person–more than economics, race, or even intelligence. It got me to thinking about what I consider to be the most important factors to success. (I’ve often joked that the reason I’ve never written a book about losing weight and keeping it off is that it would be the shortest book ever–four words: “MOVE MORE. EAT LESS.”)

Since there are also only four words in my success secrets, I guess there’s no book there, either. Here they are:

  1. Curiosity
  2. Imagination
  3. Enthusiasm
  4. Perseverance*

There you have it.

Be good, live well, and put one foot in front of the other as long as you can. I hope to return soon with more stories about radical retirement and homeschooling a sixth-grader.


* I can’t resist the famous quote by Calvin “Silent Cal” Coolidge” about persistence.

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.



Only Five Rules

Being someone who apparently likes a challenge, I’m taking on what may be the biggest one of my life, the second biggest in retirement since the decision to invite my granddaughter to live with us: we are going to homeschool her. Reasons are many but I choose not to share them*, except: whoever thought it was a good idea to merge four elementary school’s worth of sixth graders into one pit of mean, hormonal, bullying 11-13 year-olds?

Friends and family members are saying I’m very brave (or thinking I’m very stupid?), but it seems to me this is what I’m meant to do, my true life’s work. And, in addition to doing what’s right for the child, there are considerable advantages for us as well:

  • Flexible schedule. No morning bustle of breakfast, gathering up backpack and jacket and rushing for the bus. Doctor, orthodontist and dentist appointments don’t have to be after 3:30.
  • Enough sleep for everybody. My favorite retirement perk is getting up when I want to. The dog wakes me when morning light seeps in the windows–now about 7, but that will get later as the year progresses. Within reason, the granddaughter also sleeps when she needs to.
  • We can travel with her, visiting state and national parks, caves, cities with great museums–wherever and whenever we like.

Texas’ requirements for homeschooling are lax, to put it mildly. You basically decide to do it and notify the school. The law requires the following:

  • The instruction must be bona fide (i.e., not a sham).
  • The curriculum must be in visual form (e.g., books, workbooks, video monitor).
  • The curriculum must include the five basic subjects of reading, spelling, grammar, mathematics, and good citizenship

Not even science, history, geography, PE, health, or the arts are required!

I have developed a curriculum that includes English (writing, reading, spelling and grammar); math; science; social studies (history, geography and civics); art; and health (PE, hygiene and community service). I hope to add music, possibly film or theater arts, eventually. I also plan to inter-connect subjects–writing will be part of everything, and I might combine art history and world history.

The curriculum is mostly just an outline with goals right now, but…

Resources are abundant, both online and in reality. The public library, the nature center, art centers, the Upper Guadalupe River Authority, the river itself–we live in an area rich in opportunities for learning.

Online resources seem infinite. There are homeschool groups, tips, curriculum resources and on and on. I am confident I can teach pretty much everything except science and math, and we are already set up with the Khan Academy, which is free and even has add-ons for adults to learn along with the kids. There are several homeschool groups in our area, but one is very religious (which won’t work for us), and the other is a sort-of co-op, with parents sharing the teaching. Hey, if I’m going to have a stranger doing the teaching I’d rather have a certified public school teacher, thanks all the same.

The binder with my notes and plans.


Helpful resource with lots of ideas for creative teaching and learning.

The door is not slammed on public school; it’s a fallback if it becomes necessary and desirable. There is also an alternative micro-school in the area that I will investigate for next year (it was already filled up when I learned of it this summer).

Just for fun I suggested we have a name for our little school, thinking something like “Granny’s Country Day Academy.” So she decided on “The Krusty Krab.” Now we have to decide if the mascot will be Spongebob, Patrick, Squidward or, my favorite, Gary. When I gave her a math worksheet with a place for her name, she wrote “Sargent [sic] honey mufflebuns.”

the “un-school”

This really might be fun. Yes, I realize there will be days when I will wonder “WHAT WAS I THINKING?”

But there are only five rules:

  1. Sleep (enough, mostly at night)
  2. Eat (sensibly)
  3. Exercise (any at all)
  4. Learn (enthusiastically)
  5. Be grateful and kind (and put your dishes in the dishwasher)

* Family members, caregivers and others who care about her future and well-being are supportive of this choice.


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