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Home at Last, Part 3 (The Hard Part)

If you’ve followed Parts 1 and 2, you may have an image of me living my perfect life in my dream home.

This is the hard part. After the stress and hard labor of moving, I did most of the unpacking and settling in by myself. My husband had a relapse of severe back pain that kept him in his zero-gravity chair much of the summer. I gardened and hauled dirt in Texas heat, managed pool care, kept up the household chores and errands, hung pictures, plus, the most difficult part: wrangling the 10-year-old granddaughter. (After treatment, husband is doing well.)

Parenting as a grandparent, at my age, is hard. It’s just hard. With a bright pre-pubescent tween with a lot of attitude, it’s even harder. There have been many times when I just thought, “I can’t do this.”

But of course I must and I can. Now that the granddaughter is in school, it’s easier, but it does mean early rising, packing lunch, making sure someone is home at 3 p.m., and dealing with the dreaded math homework in the evening.

We have horrible days and we have good days. She gets herself up and ready with no difficulty, her grades are good so far and she does her homework without argument. I walk her to and from school, which is a great opportunity for conversation. She has made some school friends and has done one sleepover, giving us a night out to see a play. It will continue to alternate between challenge and fun.

What gets me through (besides coffee in the morning and wine in the evening):

  • I remind myself regularly: “It is a privilege and a joy to be able to do this.”
  • My art, music, knitting, church and political events keep me occupied and help me make friends.
  • I found a scrap of writing while we were moving that said: “Swimming is my exercise, my meditation, my relaxation and my serenity.” I float on my back and watch hummingbirds at the feeders. The pool and patio are also great for socializing with friends and neighbors.
  • Being in a comfortable house in a peaceful, pleasant, safe neighborhood in a community we’re coming to love.
  • Walking the dog.

    Junior in the backyard with his favorite thing.

But serious attitude work has helped the most. I am attempting mindfulness (imperfectly, of course) and meditation (not enough). I have reminders when self-pity kicks in:

  • Keeping my head up. Sometimes I catch myself slumping and looking at the ground. Simply pulling my head up and seeing trees and blue sky will lift me out of a funk.
  • Breathing. It’s obvious, but a stressed person doesn’t breathe well. Sometimes I’ll just stop and take a deep breath.
  • Gratitude. I am so blessed–good health, a wonderful home, loving family around me (even if they often drive me crazy), the sweetest dog in the world,

    Just because he’s so beautiful. (Fairy garden by my daughter and granddaughter.)

    enough of pretty much everything we need. I am reminded of a line from the movie “American Beauty,” “There is beauty everywhere.” I keep my eyes open for it, especially small things. A butterfly, a kid waving from a school bus, flowers on my windowsill, give me a lift.

    Foyer table.

Kitchen window on a rainy day.

Even if I just get an inexpensive bunch from the supermarket, fresh flowers in pretty vases make me happy.

  • On the bathroom wall is a quote from the Buddha: “Everything that has a beginning has an ending. Make peace with that and all will be well.” 
  • Mollie Player, in her blog, quoted something that (paraphrased) has become my mantra: “It’s all good, even the awful stuff, because it’s all part of the journey.”  This one is not easy, but if you can really live it, it works. Grandkid being snotty, husband hurting, family worries, my own aches and pains–it’s all part of the journey.

What gets you through?

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Ups and Downs in the Hill Country

Moving is never pretty. This one was especially ugly. Short version: it was a comedy of a too-small truck, surly crew, items left behind, plumbing problems at both houses.

Then there’s the pool (a white elephant, an extra pet, another child?). It was sick, and it took many phone calls, waiting, draining, refilling to get it sparkling and inviting. We now have reliable service. Yard care is another matter, but I leave that to Gary.

My view as I sit at the dining room table. I never noticed till now how the trees form a heart-shaped arch beyond the pool.

One thing we’re finding in our new home town is how hard it is to get services. Businesses take days to return calls, if they do at all. It must be small-town standard time.

We still need the basics of everyday living. My mantra has been “EAT. SLEEP. BATHE.” As long as we can get food, have beds and have a bathroom, we’re fine. But being surrounded by boxes gets old, and we still have a lot of unpacking to do (art, books and knickknacks–unnecessary items you wonder why you have so many of).

Boxes. Art. Stuff.

Mostly books. We purged hundreds of books but still have many to unpack.

The living room from the dining room. The large painting had some damage so I need to put on my art restorer’s hat and fix it before we can hang it.

These are of course so-called first-world problems, and we love it here. We have met neighbors while walking the dog; some have knocked on our door. One neighbor helped us hook up the washer, another has offered iris plants when she splits them. People everywhere give me tips on local shopping, swimming holes and other treasures.

Some of my Austin friends connected me to people they know here in Kerrville, so I already feel like we have friends here. One invited me to a Pink Power Democratic Women’s mixer, which I really enjoyed. On the next street we met a couple whose daughter goes to our UU church in Austin. They are into theater and we’ve already had them over for drinks.

The best thing is that, despite the slower and quieter pace, there is a wealth of things to do here. The beautiful Guadalupe River provides walks and swimming spots. There are several art venues and theater companies and a small UU congregation. I’m finding poets and knitters. When we can pull ourselves away from home, there’s a multitude of choices.

We have small mall, a large regional medical center, two H-E-B groceries, a Wal-Mart (to which I have made more visits in the last three weeks than my previous lifetime total–it’s five minutes away). If Wal-Mart or H-E-B doesn’t have it, Gibson‘s, a local hardware-hunting-fishing-dimestore-discount place probably does. And I won’t miss Michael’s, because Home Town Crafts has everything–it’s Michael’s, Hobby Lobby and JoAnn’s mashed together. There are Home Depot, Lowes, and local home and garden supply stores. About the only thing missing is a Target, which I can manage without.

Even though most of the art remains boxed, we have hung curtains in our bedrooms, acquired (and assembled) dining room and patio furniture, and have functioning spaces to eat, sleep and bathe.

One side of the nicely organized kitchen.

More kitchen.

My studio is the last thing to be unpacked and set up before we hang art. I want to get back to doing art, but I’m having trouble. I have broken it into stages: unpacking, sorting, organizing and putting away. I’m still in sorting phase, and it’s so overwhelming (why do I have so much STUFF?) that I have to break that up too.

My unpacked and unorganized studio space. Where to start?

Progress? At least there are books on shelves.

We had to go to Austin last week to close on the condo, and we went to San Antonio yesterday. Each time I couldn’t wait to get back home. I’ve told my kids my next move will be to either the nursing home or the funeral home.

When we have our coffee on the patio in the morning and a glass of wine in the evening, or when I float in our private pool surrounded by pecan trees, I feel like we won the lottery.

Wall-e the Polaris robot doing his job while I chill after a hot day of unpacking.

The Enigma of Chaos

Christmas 1989, Austin, a southern city that does not handle cold well, had an extended hard freeze. Pipes froze and burst, rooms were flooded, water was turned off. I was living in a two-bedroom apartment with my younger daughter, then a teen. Pipes in the next apartment burst, flooding my daughter’s walk-in closet. We moved everything into the living room, hauled water in buckets from neighboring buildings that still had water, and made the best of it during the holiday break.

After a few days of living in the mess, I got my paints out. I had graduated from St. Ed’s the previous spring with my art degree, but I was working a full-time administrative job and sharing space with the daughter, not an arrangement conducive to making art. But I set up an easel on the dining table and painted away.

This move has again proven what I learned then: I’m an obsessive control freak who feels a constant need for order, yet when everything falls apart I tend to fall into the flow and let creativity take over. It seems like a paradox, but it really isn’t: when control becomes simply impossible, I relinquish the need for control.

 

Living room shot for the real estate listing (credit AustinRealPros).

 

Our living room yesterday (that is not an assault rifle; it’s a water blaster used in one of Gary’s plays, and it’s on its way to Goodwill now).

Last week I had some panic: “There is no way we’ll ever get all this stuff cleared out and packed.” But  things got moving, a friend offered to help me pack art, and now, just over two weeks before Moving Day, I’m relaxed enough to sit here blogging. This afternoon I’m having a massage and acupuncture.

Tomorrow is my birthday and we’re having our traditional lunch at Chez Zee with an old friend, with whom I share a birthday, and her husband.

Three weeks before the end of school I decided to knit washcloths for my granddaughter’s teachers; they make nice gifts wrapped around a bar of fancy soap.

And still I knit.

As I turn 72, I am so grateful for good health, family, friends, and our new adventure.

 

Shredding Memories, Saving Dreams

Several months before we decided to move, I told my therapist I wanted to destroy my old journals. “Burn ’em,” was her response. I burned a few outside in the grill, and quite a few more in the fireplace during the winter, but shredding was more efficient and environmentally friendly. I’m finally done shredding about 20 years’ worth of spiral binders.

Some were writing journals and many had dreams, so I tried to salvage poems, writing ideas and dreams for future use, especially for a long-planned (but sidelined) book of dream poems, titled either “Nightly Visits to Other Worlds” or “Skating Under the Aurora.”

Watercolor sketch for the book of dream poems I will finish someday.

I couldn’t take time to read everything so I skimmed randomly. One thing that struck me was how much pain I was in during the late ’90s and early 2000s: back pain, stomach pain, severe Irritable Bowel Syndrome, headaches, vertigo and ear problems.

Like many people I journaled to rant and unload pain and unhappiness, but this was real suffering, and I’d almost forgotten about the dizzy spells, about the time I visited my brother shortly before he died, and I was afraid I’d miss my plane because I couldn’t get out of bed. I underwent treatment for allergies and ear problems, including years of allergy shots.

The stomach pain turned out to be a huge mass on my pancreas. Thanks to good medical care, I’m alive and pain-free. Good chiropractic care has made my back more stable and less likely to give out without warning. Retirement has helped with the IBS–one thing I noticed was that I had bad episodes on days the Medical Board met. I loved my job and it wasn’t always stressful, but board days were hard work and very busy, and it was no coincidence my body responded. I also manage my diet better and have learned the array of irritating foods to avoid, including apples, oranges, pears, lettuce, seeds–I just can’t digest a lot of fiber.

The biggest differences, though, I attribute three or four factors:

First, getting on Prozac in 2012. I’ve covered this in several blog posts, but I can’t say enough about how it changed my life.

Second, acupuncture has helped reduce allergy symptoms and has virtually eliminated my headaches. It’s also just made me feel better all over; I sleep better and generally feel better. Along with chiropractic care, my body feels strong and balanced.

Third, self care. Since my granddaughter moved in with us and I’ve moved into my 70s, I need to be more careful with my body, my diet, my sleep habits and how I spend my time. An afternoon nap isn’t just a treat; it’s essential.

Fourth, spiritual awareness, or wisdom of age. I’m more patient, open-hearted, generous and joyful. Two years ago, when we were trying to decided whether to ask the granddaughter to come and live with us, I was anxious that it would make my life so stressful and difficult that I would mourn the loss of my free and easy retirement. And I did. It’s been hard.

But when I take the dog out before dawn on these soft spring mornings, I actually enjoy being awake. I’m grateful for the sweet dog (which we wouldn’t have if we didn’t have the child), for good legs, a strong heart and all the other parts that still work pretty well. When I take Chloe to school (on time or early, not late every day like last year) I enjoy greeting friends and walking on the greenbelt during doggie morning happy hour.

My sweet nap buddy.

I’m excited about the upcoming changes in our lives and the opportunities to keep making art and to create a beautiful new home for our family.

Poppies, just because they’re so pretty.

 

 

Busted by the Elf…

 

 

… and by excellent grammar.

Having a November birthday means Chloe is flush with cash in December. She had wanted an Elf on the Shelf for a while. At 10, she still believes in the Tooth Fairy and Santa.

I think the Elf is a scam, and at $30 each I would never buy one, but she had the money and wore me down until I agreed to take her shopping (after trying to talk her into ordering one online). We planned for a weekend, but by Tuesday she was so anxious about missing the “deadline” for the Elf to arrive that I took her after school, after first calling the nearest Walmart, where, I was assured, they had them.

They lied. The next stop, Target, was out. At this point we went back home for further research. The J.C. Penney at the mall assured me that they did indeed have them in stock. By this time it was nearing 5, but we were on a mission. The traffic to and from the mall was blessedly manageable despite my worst fears.

We snagged the last boy elf. Chloe didn’t like the girl because she was too tarted up (my word). The plain blue-eyed boy suited her.

If you know nothing about this scam, um, kids’ delight, here’s the story: someone started a family tradition of having an elf appear in the house as a “scout” for Santa, since he can’t watch everyone. Every night the elf would fly off to the North Pole, return and land in a different location. It couldn’t be touched by humans; doing so would nullify the magic.

These very smart people marketed their little game, wrote a kids’ book to go with it and put it all in a glossy box, pretty much selling out every Christmas (after which they probably spent New Year’s in Tahiti).

Chloe named her elf “Max” and wrote his name on the “adoption certificate” included with the book. Using tongs, she immediately dropped him, catching him by the foot. The “treatment” for regaining magic was for him to lie on a red plate dusted with cinnamon.

My nightmare began. Chloe left Max notes and little treats. Each night, before I could go to bed, I’d write a reply; eat, hide or dispose of the treat; and find a new secure spot for him. (One night I stupidly put him within the dog’s reach, but he left Max alone.)

Max and his accouterments, before the big bust.

Max and his accouterments, before the big bust.

Writing notes and finding new locations continued nightly until December 18. I was careful to use a printing style completely different from mine, and like Marigold in the comic “Phoebe and her Unicorn,” Max wrote rather formally and never used contractions. He also answered questions vaguely (did he know certain other elves? Did he remember her friends from her old neighborhood?). Chloe showed some skepticism, asking me repeatedly if I was moving Max, if I was writing the notes. I was as evasive as Max, but basically denying everything.

As I was driving us home from church on the 18th, she kept at me, insisting I tell her the truth, and I spilled. Of course she was devastated and felt betrayed, and of course I felt horrible. She asked me about Santa as well, and I told her we weren’t having any more conversations about it.

We were invited to a Solstice party that afternoon, and I insisted we go even though she was heartbroken. I told a friend, a very smart, warm-hearted grandmother, who said some reassuring words to Chloe. On the way home she brightened, telling me she was kind of relieved and had guessed it was me because “Max” didn’t know the answers to some of her questions.

And she knew it had to be me because Max used such excellent grammar.

She still believes in Santa. By next Christmas she’ll be 11 and we’ll deal with it before then, but for now the subject is off-limits.

Max and his non-magical predecessor buddy. Now that he's "out" he can stay on the shelf all year. And we can touch him!

Max (right) and his non-magical predecessor buddy. Now that he’s “out” he can stay on the shelf all year. And we can touch him!

 

Retreat

I’m having a recurring fantasy: a cabin or cottage on a lake, river, stream, creek or beach, even an island. Provisioned with staple foods, firewood and household needs. No internet, phone for emergencies only.

I’d pack up food for simple meals, a couple of bottles of wine, art supplies, a laptop, comfortable clothes and shoes, and disappear for a few days. I’d probably take the dog for company, since he can’t talk. Four or five days, a week at most, would be enough for me to come back refreshed, missing the daily hubbub. At least I would intend to come back. Hee hee.

This would do

Either of these would do…*

cottage-on-the-beach-16

I’m not unique and I’ll bet everyone overwhelmed with parenting experiences something similar. Rabbi Evan Moffic’s blog expresses similar feelings but concludes that life is for being with people. He quotes Mary Oliver’s “A Dream of Trees”

There is a thing in me that dreamed of trees

A quiet house, some green and modest acres

A little way from every troubling town,

A little way from factories, schools, laments.

I would have time, I thought, and time to spare,

With only streams and birds for company,

To build out of my life a few wild stanzas.

And then it came to me, that so was death,

A little way away from everywhere…

I would that it were not so, but so it is.

Who ever made music of a mild day?

Easy for you to say, Mary. This grandparenting/parenting gig is hard. It’s getting better, certainly. Chloe’s behavior has improved immensely. Every school day last year began with yelling and arriving late. This year I don’t even have to wake her or remind her to get ready; we get out the door with no yelling and haven’t been late once. She’s doing well academically and seems to enjoy her teachers and classmates. She loves art and does wonderfully imaginative drawings. She told me the other day she probably would have quit art a long time ago if it wasn’t for me. I asked why. She said “Because you encourage me and let me have lots of art supplies.”

She’s almost 10. We’re on the bridge between Santa Claus and puberty. She spends too much time playing online games and watching videos. Her favorite radio station in the car is KISS-FM, with its breathy, sugary, romantic cotton-candy pop music. But she’s teachable: we talk about the songs that are all about codependence and neediness versus the ones about girls’ empowerment. She’s getting the message.

My therapist reminds me that my age and relative lack of stamina and energy–despite my being in pretty good physical condition–make it tougher to handle parenting. But I told her what I lack in stamina I make up in GRIT, determination, tenacity–whatever you want to call it.

I’m in for the long haul, wherever that takes us with this challenging, interesting young woman-to-be. No retreat.

* Photo credits: Cabin in the woods, beach cottage

 

Leaps forward, hops back

Short update on granny parenting: It gets easier, it gets harder, we make progress and we fall back.

The school counselor and Chloe’s teacher give me good reports. We’re doing better with sleep and getting to school on time. The therapist is helping a lot with dietary advice and supplements. Chloe is making friends and seems more confident and happy.

Overall I’m optimistic that we’re on the right track. But it’s still a struggle; I’m often irritable and exhausted and Chloe gives way to much lip (although probably not an unusual amount for a smart 9-year-old girl).

I could ramble on for a while about how hard this school year has been, but y’all already know that. So I’ll just post a few photos and say that we have registered her for school here next year, and I’m going to be secretary of the PTA board, which I think will be a manageable way for me to be involved, get to know school staff and other parents, and keep up with what’s going on at the school.

Chloe’s doing art camp the first week after school gets out, which should be fun because she loves the art teacher. After that summer’s open–time with other family members, exploring the nearby creek, and lots and lots of pool time.

Chloe and friend, first pool day of 2016 (April 20).

Chloe and friend, first pool day of 2016 (April 20).

With our beloved dog, Junior, acquired in October as a rescue.

With our beautiful blue heeler, Junior, acquired in October as a rescue.

Junior enjoying Chloe's blankie.

Junior enjoying Chloe’s blankie and his favorite toy, a ball. He goes berserk for any kind of ball.

She loves manga, anime and fantasy. Sometimes she's a witch, sometimes a werewolf.

She loves manga, anime and fantasy. Sometimes she’s a witch, sometimes a werewolf.

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