Where’s Your Happy Place?

Trying to nap after 24 hours of various stresses–family, finances, technology, interruptions, doggie waking me too early–I tried to think of the most beautiful place I’d ever been. I didn’t go to sleep, but quite a few candidates came to mind. In no particular order:

  • In New Zealand: Devil’s Punchbowl in Arthur’s Pass National Park, Abel Tasman National Park, Nelson Lakes National Park
    • Me on the beach at Abel Tasman National Park, 2009

Devil’s Punchbowl (photo: seesouthisland.com)

  • Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario

Charming town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario (photo the canadianencyclopedia.com)

  • The Yorkshire Moors when the heather is blooming

Heather on the moor (photo: Tripadvisor)

  • Inverness, Scotland

Inverness with summer blooms (photo: Reddit)

  • The island of Eleuthera, the Bahamas
  • Butterfly Conservatory, Niagara Falls, Ontario
  • Washington, D.C., in the spring
  • Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, in the fall
  • The Grand Canyon
  • Dahlias blooming in the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers and begonias in the Christchurch, New Zealand Botanic Gardens

Golden Gate Park dahlias (photo: Pinterest)

And finally, probably the most beautiful place I have ever been:

  • National Tropical Botanical Garden on Kauai

Golden shower trees at the National Tropical Botanical Garden (photo: trover.com)

It’s interesting that almost everything involves flowers and/or water.

But no matter where I go, I am very grateful for what I see when I step out my back door:

Happy unicorn float, oleander and hummingbird feeders

 

View of entry to meditation garden from the patio

What are your favorite beauty spots?

 

 

 

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Who Mothers the Mothers?

 

Who mothers the mothers?
Who cares for the caregiver–
wipes her brow when she’s hot
cleans her up when she’s sick?

Who picks up the slack
when she’s exhausted
and would rather sleep
than run that errand,
or the vacuum?

Who hugs her
loves her
makes her appointments
and takes her to them?

Who takes care of the mothers?

Who sends her flowers,
who will plant them on her grave?

 

Just Have to Get Past This…

There will always be boulders in the road ahead. Sometimes we can get around them; sometimes they bring us to a screeching halt. Now and then we crash headlong into one and it knocks us flat.

My last post was about my “year in tight shoes.” I seemed think the worst was over and that I could relax a bit, coast, enjoy a glass of wine on the patio after harvesting goodies from the garden. Silly me.

This plant was started from seed at school. We’re already enjoying cherry tomatoes.

 

My little garden is growing radishes, peppers, spinach, tomatoes, flowers, carrots and a few weeds.

The Universe has ways of reminding us not to get smug. This time it hit me upside the head with a 2×4. On March 29, my daughter’s house burned down. She lost nearly everything, including her home-based business. Humans and animals are all ok.

Fire-ravaged bedroom from the back of the house.

“Fire is fickle,” she said. This fur coat survived.

 

While I made several trips (a two-hour drive each way) to help her in whatever small ways I was able–cleaning soot off salvaged items, laundering other items (multiple washes to remove the smell), taking meals, providing a few hotel nights–we were dealing with our own mess at home–not catastrophic like my daughter’s, but exceedingly annoying.

We had had an infestation of small flies for weeks. One pest control “expert” decided to fog the house with what I later learned was Deltamithrin, or Delta dust–waterproof, mildly toxic, nearly impossible to remove. Every object in the house had to be cleaned, from bed linens, curtains, furniture and rugs, to counters, floors, cupboards, knickknacks. Every. Single. Item. The floors took five moppings–with industrial-strength vinegar–to finally remove the white residue. This cleanup took a week (with the help of our cleaning lady, for which the pest company’s insurance reimbursed us), so I went from wiping black soot off china and glass to wiping white powder off everything in our house. (Soon afterwards, the remaining guinea pig died, but I think it was loneliness. The animals were out of the house with us during the fogging.)

And–kicker!–we still have flies. We’ve had five visits from three different pest control companies, as well as three plumbing service calls to eliminate leaks and wet spots where flies might breed.

Our situation is only annoying, not tragic. My daughter will rebuild her life and her home, and it will be better. She is managing with as much grace and fortitude as a person could be expected to after so much loss.

And I continue to live under the illusion that once this phase of challenges, plus some ongoing tasks, are done, I can relax. The patio, the wine, the knitting, and the backlog of New Yorker magazines, await.

Sigh. (Not sure why the bunny is there.)

And the Universe will continue to place boulders in the road to remind me the path–mine or anyone’s–usually isn’t a stroll in the park.

 

 

A Year in Tight Shoes

Going through difficult times is a bit like wearing uncomfortable shoes: you don’t realize how bad they feel until you take them off.

Nearly a year into our new home venture, it feels like we’re emerging from a tunnel. There have been many challenges, surprises, upsets and a lot of really great stuff.

On March 18, 2017, we chose our new home and began the moving process. Three months prior, my husband had had back surgery to correct a bulging disc that impinged on the sciatic nerve. He was doing well. We had discussed leaving Austin for a smaller town and decided Kerrville filled our needs.

After the move in early June, the back problem re-emerged–no doubt, at least in part, related to packing, lifting, painting, cleaning and everything else associated with moving, even with movers. And it was a nightmare move, mostly because of the movers, who were incompetent and surly. (One large item, a Japanese stone lantern, did not find its way home until fall, when I literally went and got it from the warehouse in Round Rock. Other items, including a favorite framed still shot from the movie “Casablanca,” remains missing.)

The wayward lantern forms part of the entrance to the work-in-progress meditation garden.  The “garden” part will be mostly rocks. It needs a Buddha gate.

Anyway, we accomplished a lot over the summer and ensuing months despite husband’s back problems:  balancing and correcting water quality in a neglected swimming pool; acquiring a hot-tub (balm for aching muscles); setting up composting; hiring lawn care; decorating and hanging art; going all-out with Christmas trees and decorating, hosting two holiday parties! We’ve made an effort to meet like-minded people. I go to a weekly knitting group; we have joined a church; we have become involved with local liberal/progressive politics (futile as that might be in this red-meat part of a blood-red state.)

Our granddaughter turned 11 in November. She is doing well in school, but a pre-teen pubescent girl can be a handful under the best of circumstances, and she has presented a whole lot of challenges on top of the normal ones.

As we approach our first anniversary in the new home, I celebrate the following:

  • My husband had another back surgery last month and is pain-free and moving toward full functionality.
  • We are slowly the turning the battleship of the granddaughter’s challenges.
  • We have a community of friends, good neighbors and an active social life.
  • We go to art shows, concerts and plays.
  • We’ve traveled a bit, mostly around the gorgeous Texas Hill Country, and we’re near a Unitarian-Universalist retreat center, where we can re-charge and appreciate incredible dark starry skies.
  • I’m digging a garden, which I find surprisingly satisfying, especially yanking out that devil’s spawn, crabgrass. I’m looking forward to bringing in more soil and planting herbs, carrots, radishes, peppers, greens and tomatoes (a “salad” garden).

Who knew this would be fun?

I’m thinking about changing my name to “Diggins.”

Granddaughter’s tomato plant, started in school, already has several tiny green tomatoes.

Patio succulents and fairy garden.

  • I have a nearly perfect studio space, where granddaughter and I paint and I make my “kindness” postcards, along with another blog to show my art.
  • We got through the winter without flu. All of us, including the four-year-old rescue dog, are healthy. (Sadly, one guinea pig died, and I would love to re-home his cage-mate.)
  • Regular acupuncture treatments are keeping my sinus headaches and allergies under control, and my other chronic ailments are well-managed. I’m an exceptionally vigorous and healthy 70+-year-old!
  • I have developed a spiritual practice that helps me stay calmer and more grounded than I otherwise might be. (I intend to expand on my spiritual growth in a future post.)

My primary spiritual practice is constant gratitude. I get up very early (5:18, to be exact) to have quiet solitude before getting the child off to school, and I miss that best retirement perk, sleeping in. But as my feet hit the floor I am grateful for another day I can keep doing this. I nap most days.

 

These…

… not these.

Lessons from the Labyrinth, Part 1*

 

The labyrinth at UbarU, formed with native rock and built with love by early participants at UbarU. (UbarU photo)

A few weeks ago I attended a retreat–Knitting and Fiber Arts–at a beautiful camp and retreat center in Mountain Home, Texas. UbarU is managed by a foundation established by Unitarian Universalist churches in Texas. I’ve attended several retreats there, including last year’s needle arts retreat, but this was the best–actually one of the best weekends I’ve ever spent.

The peaceful setting–amazing, creative women to talk to, time to knit, stitch, read, take long walks or just chill on the porch–were just what I needed after a tough few months of running a challenging household. One late afternoon, I sat on the porch with a glass of wine and a magazine as the sun was going down and thought, “This is paradise.”

I have walked different labyrinths over the years, always hoping for some new insight, spiritual experience or a bit of serenity. I know it’s best to enter a labyrinth with no expectations, and most times I’ve had no remarkable experiences.

It was a cool, damp, misty Sunday morning. After worship I headed out, since the previous day I gone with two other women, and we were so busy chatting we missed it, walking right past it and returning to the meeting-house by a different route!

My thoughts on the walk centered on how to maintain the incredible sense of peace and timelessness the weekend was providing. My main issue has been my constant struggle with time.

A voice in my head (although it almost seemed to come from outside my head) whispered: “Whatever you struggle with becomes your enemy.” Wow, ok, I thought. “Do I really want Time to be my enemy? That’s a fight Time will always win.”

As I process this epiphany, I am learning to becoming friends with, or at least respectful to, Time, rather than being ruled by it. I try not to look at the clock too often. Don’t overschedule. Get enough sleep.

Of course I’m not doing it perfectly. Punctuality has always been a high value for me, and I hate to be late (or for others to be late). Trying to reduce stress by being more relaxed about time may actually cause stress if it makes me late or hurried.

I hope the peace treaty will hold. One of my favorite expressions is that “You have to pick your battles,” so this is one I hope I’ve quit.

A labyrinth so big it’s visible on the satellite photo. (Google photo)

* It’s uncertain if there will be a Part 2. This experience of walking the labyrinth brought other deep, profound insights that I am still processing and have not shared, and may never share, with anyone.

 

Resolved: Doggie Meditation

I’ve always liked the idea of New Year’s resolutions. After the clutter and clatter of the holidays, January feels like a fresh start, clean slate and all that. I usually keep at least some of my resolutions. The best I’ve ever done was in 2000, when I began a stretching/yoga routine soon after getting up every morning. I rarely miss, and when I do I can tell.

This year I decided to amp up that morning routine. Before the recent disruptions in my life–granddaughter living with us, moving to a new city–I had tried to include meditation and writing morning pages (from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way). Between walking the dog and getting a child off to school the early mornings are pretty full. But if I don’t do it first thing it won’t happen, so I started setting the phone alarm for 15 minutes earlier (yes, from 5:35 a.m. to 5:20). At that hour, what’s 15 more minutes?

First I take the dog out, then stretch and meditate. Lying on the floor was chilly, even on the rug and a yoga mat, so I moved to the sofa, next to where the dog curls up after our walk. I’ve found breathing deeply next to a warm, sweet dog whose belly is just waiting for a rub is the best way to meditate.

Maybe I’ll write a book–“The Downward Doggie Way to Peace and Contentment.”

My nap, walking and meditation buddy, Junior. His tail is blurry because it was wagging as I approached to take the picture.

Next is coffee and 10 minutes of writing–gratitude journal, dream journal and/or morning pages. I’m determined to stay with these resolutions because I do feel calmer and more focused.

Next resolution: kindness.

 

Put Your Own Oxygen Mask on First

I first thought we might ask our granddaughter to live with us when she was about seven, but it seemed impossible. Where would we house her in our condo? How would we travel? Would I keep up my volunteer activities? How would our marriage fare?

After she and her mom moved, not just to a small town, but 10 miles outside a small town, with its long drives and even longer bus ride to school (and sometimes she missed the bus and mom didn’t have a working vehicle); no close neighbors with kids; and a very white-bread conservative community ill-fitted to the funky creative family.

Living in a vibrant city with an excellent elementary school nearby, we decided to invited her to live with us–on a temporary, experimental basis.

Two-and-a-half years later it doesn’t seem temporary and we no longer live in the big city. But our new hometown, though small, has everything we need: good schools, beautiful geography, lots of culture, a church community we all like, and plenty of activities.

Not only has it not been impossible, it is our normal and I wouldn’t have it otherwise. As challenging as a (now) 11-year-old is, she is bright, talented and funny. And if we didn’t have her we would never have acquired our beautiful dog, Junior, who is my comfort buddy.

Beautiful Junior.

However….

I had a few days of solitude over the holidays, unplanned, unexpected and totally delightful. No husband, child or dog. Just me and the guinea pigs. I can’t even relate what I did most of those days, except for lounging in bed after waking, drinking coffee in my silk robe, eating when and what I felt like, and taking long walks. Other than a grocery run, I didn’t go anywhere or talk to anyone for three days. I did a lot of reading. It was just what I needed.

One thing I did was arrange my messy scarf drawer so I can see what I have and actually wear them.

 

One of my walks.

On New Year’s Eve, everyone returned, and it was back to the noisy TV, insistent dog, meal prep and laundry. I was determined to maintain some of the self-care that had been so therapeutic, but often I can’t think a thought or type a sentence or read a story without an interruption. I try to be patient, try to meet their needs too, but it’s a difficult balance–self-care without being selfish!

Yes, I should delegate more, and I handed laundry off to my husband. Unfortunately it can take three days for a load of laundry to get done, which tries my patience and I end up nagging reminding him repeatedly, “the washer’s done,” “your dryer is buzzing….”

Granddaughter is becoming much more self-reliant, fixing most of her own food and spending hours in her room drawing with her new tablet that shows the image on her laptop screen. We also collaborated on the decoration for a Little Free Library to be installed in front of our church, but I’m not terribly thrilled with how it came out, or how much of my effort it took.

One of her first attempts with the new drawing tablet.

One side of the Little Free Library, a collaboration between the two of us that took way more effort than I expected.

When she was at her mom’s over the holidays Chloe texted me a picture of a puppy she wanted. I put my foot down and said absolutely not. But the other day I was cuddling Junior and thinking about how calming and therapeutic a dog can be (there is a lot of anxiety in this family), so I’ve laid out conditions that must be met before I will even consider a dog for her birthday in November:

  • It will be her dog, meaning she walks it twice a day, feeds it when she’s at home, and manages all its care inasmuch as the school day allows. She also needs to help with Junior’s care.
  • She must show more responsibility than she does now for cleaning, and keeping clean, her bathroom and bedroom. Consistently, over the long haul, not just a blitz cleaning now and then.
  • She must keep up her school work and her attendance.
  • She must maintain a generally helpful and cooperative attitude around the house.
  • IF, and it’s a big if, we get another dog, it has to be a rescue dog, an adult under 30 pounds, and she wants a female so it’ll have to be spayed.

There are still the issues of vet bills, travel care, and what happens when she grows up and leaves home?

I’m still struggling with the balance and self-care, so is this nuts? For the record, I’m staying caught up on reading, having finished three books I started last year. I’m getting needed medical services for myself, now that the rest of the family’s medical needs are being met. I sing in two choirs, attend a weekly knitting group session, go to church every week and feel well-connected with our new community.

 

 

 

 

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